Mariner East 2 construction site in Edgemont Township, Delaware County. DEP said Sunoco can resume drilling at a site in neighboring Chester County where some private well water turned cloudy after the company punctured an aquifer last summer.
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
What will Sunoco’s $12.6 million Mariner East 2 penalty be spent on?
Jon is an experienced journalist who has covered a wide range of general and business-news stories for national and local media in the U.S. and his native U.K. As a former Reuters reporter, he spent several years covering the early stages of Pennsylvania’s natural gas fracking boom and was one of the first national reporters to write about the effects of gas development on rural communities. Jon trained as a general news reporter with a British newspaper chain and later worked for several business-news organizations including Bloomberg News and Market News International, covering topics including economics, bonds, currencies and monetary policy. Since 2011, he has been a freelance writer, contributing Philadelphia-area news to The New York Times; covering economics for Market News, and writing stories on the environment and other subjects for a number of local outlets including StateImpact. He has written two travel guidebooks to the European Alps; lived in Australia, Switzerland, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, and visited many countries including Ethiopia, Peru, Taiwan, and New Zealand. Outside of work hours, Jon can be found running, birding, cooking, and, when weather permits, gardening in the back yard of a Philadelphia row home where he lives with his partner, Kate.
A Mariner East 2 construction site is shown in Edgemont Township, Delaware County. Officials say the company will pay to clean up environmental violations in addition to a $12.6 million fine.
Update, April 17:The Wolf administration said it created a new grant program funded by the $12.6 million penalty. The 85 municipalities along the pipeline’s route can apply for money toward projects that cut down on pollution and protect clean water. In a news release, Wolf said it’s important to use the money in a way “that will support long-term water quality improvement projects in these communities.” The Department of Environmental Protection will take grant applications for 45 days beginning May 7 and expects to approve projects by the summer.
Reported previously: The $12.6 million penalty being paid by Sunoco for multiple violations during construction of the Mariner East 2 pipelines will be used to improve water quality and the safety of dams across Pennsylvania, and will be in addition to the company’s work to correct environmental damage caused during the project, current and former state officials said.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s penalty for dozens of permit violations over the last year was among the largest ever handed out by the agency, and was the price demanded by the state for its permission to resume construction after a month-long state-ordered shutdown.
The money will go to the Clean Water Fund and the Dams and Encroachment Fund, both of which are specified by state law to receive proceeds from penalties imposed by environmental regulators.
The Clean Water Fund will receive nearly all the money — $11.8 million – for “the elimination of pollution,” as required by the Clean Streams Law, according to Deborah Klenotic, a spokeswoman for the DEP. The rest will go to “protecting the citizens of the Commonwealth from the hazards to life, property, and the environment resulting from unsafe dams, water obstructions and encroachments” under the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, she said.
Klenotic declined to say whether any of the money would be used to remediate environmental damage caused by dozens of spills of drilling fluid or the contamination of some private water wells during the year that the pipeline has been under construction.
But David Hess, who headed DEP in the early 2000s under Republican governors Ridge and Schweiker, said it’s highly likely that Sunoco will be required to clean up the damage caused by its botched construction, in addition to paying the penalty.
“Cleaning up the mess is company’s responsibility,” Hess said. “Only if the company for some reason could not pay those costs, then it would fall back on the public but I haven’t seen anything that says they’re not going to pay for whatever cleanup is needed. I can’t imagine a company the size of Sunoco not paying for the cleanup costs on their own.”
Hess argued that DEP needed to get Sunoco’s attention in view of the company’s apparent failure to heed a series of violations issued by the state. Officials did so first by imposing a rare shutdown on construction on Jan. 3 and then by imposing the penalty, which Hess said was the biggest ever imposed by Pennsylvania on a pipeline project.
The amount should induce Sunoco to comply with environmental rules after months of flaunting them, Hess said, but the penalty alone does not remove the need for continued vigilance by regulators – as pledged by current DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in his announcement of the penalty, Hess said.
After the DEP announcement on Feb. 8, Sunoco said it strongly disagreed with DEP’s description of the company’s practices as “egregious” but said it would fully comply with permit conditions going forward.
Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for the environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action, said the penalty is much larger than most imposed by the state, and probably reflects an attempt by DEP to force compliance from a company that prompted regulators to issue dozens of violations during 2017.
He urged DEP to use a significant portion of the money to monitor Sunoco’s construction restart, and redouble its efforts to ensure compliance with permits conditions.
Alex Bomstein, an attorney for Clean Air Council, an environmental group that has led legal challenges to the Mariner East project, called the $12.6 million “small” by comparison with the number of violations and the size of the project, which the company says is costing more than $2.5 billion.
It’s not clear that the penalty is sufficient to deter Sunoco from further violations, Bomstein said.