Mariner East 2 pipeline construction crews work in the backyards of homes on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, on May 2. Sinkholes that opened in the area prompted the state's Public Utility Commission to order that an existing pipeline nearby, the Mariner East 1, be shut down until it could be determined that the sinkholes didn't threaten its safety. PUC on May 3 approved a re-start of Mariner East 1.
Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania
Sunoco to residents near sinkholes: We’ll pay to relocate you during investigation
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.
Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA
Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an ‘additional investigation’ of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. The company offered to relocate residents of the five homes whose yards are crossed by the pipeline right of way. The work is expected to take 4-6 weeks.
Sunoco is offering to relocate residents at a Chester County site where drilling for the Mariner East pipelines has caused sinkholes to open up in recent weeks.
The company sent at least one letter to homeowners at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township last week, saying that it would pay for their relocation, plus a food allowance for an estimated four to six weeks while it conducted an “additional investigation” of geological conditions behind their houses.
“To alleviate any inconvenience to you, SPLP has offered to relocate you and provide a per diem reimbursement for the food for the duration of the scheduled work,” said a letter dated March 30.
The letter said the company will be looking for “any subsurface anomalies and additional areas that should be investigated further.”
Sunoco spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger confirmed that the company sent the letters to Lisa Drive residents. She did not respond to questions on the reasons for the new investigation.
The company has already been working to secure the site since the Public Utility Commission ordered a halt to the operation of the Mariner East 1 pipeline on March 7 because of its concern that the sinkholes, unstable geology, and the adjacent construction work for two new Mariner pipelines could endanger public safety.
The PUC ordered Sunoco to check the integrity of ME1 – which carries natural gas liquids – for a mile either side of the Lisa Drive site.
The pipeline right-of-way where the work will be done lies in the backyards of five houses whose owners agreed to Sunoco’s offers of compensation. By early March, the area was already filled with fenced enclosures around the sink holes which are as deep as 15 feet, according to the PUC.
Critics including State Sen. Andy Dinniman say the geology is limestone “karst” that is too unstable to support the horizontal directional drilling for the new pipelines, Mariner East 2 and 2X.
John Mattia, a resident whose home backs on to the investigation site, said Sunoco had given him very little time to decide whether to move himself, his two teenage children, and the family dog out of the house where they have lived for 17 years.
“I was a little upset that they are telling me two days before proposed construction is scheduled to begin that I leave the house,” Mattia said. “It has caused a bit of stress.”
Mattia said on Sunday that he hadn’t decided whether to move out or endure what he expects will be even more disruption than he has experienced during the investigation so far.
He expects the work in his back yard to be “noisy and intrusive” and to go on from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. six or possibly seven days a week. “It sounds like it’s going to be a little disruptive,” he said.
Mattia, 48, a computer programmer, said he is trying to get more information from the PUC on the nature of the investigation and the reason for it, but assumes that it has been ordered because the regulator is not satisfied with the results of the work so far.
If he moves his family out, he said they won’t go to a hotel but he has the option of rented accommodation. He described the Sunoco’s offer of compensation for the move as “adequate.”
Andrew Neuwirth, an attorney for Mattia’s neighbors, Russell and Mary March, issued a statement saying:
“Sunoco still does not seem to know the extent of the destruction it caused five months after the sinkholes first appeared. This new ‘investigation’ is long overdue. But to add insult to injury, the ‘investigation’ may force the residents of Lisa Drive to have to relocate from their already-damaged properties. We hope Sunoco will be forthcoming about the investigation’s results.”
In its letter, the company said the investigation will include “small excavations” and “geotechnical studies” during the week of April 2-6.
It said the project “may take up to approximately 4-6 weeks.”
Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a spokesman for the PUC said the investigation is ongoing. “An active and ongoing investigation is continuing by the PUC’s independent Bureau of Investigation & Enforcement (Pipeline Safety Division) – which includes geophysical testing and analysis addressed in the Commission’s Emergency Order,” he said in a statement.
He declined to say whether PUC had ordered the new investigation, why the work is being done, or whether it indicates that the geological problems at Lisa Drive are more serious than the initial work indicated. Hagen-Frederiksen did not respond to a question on whether Mariner East 1 would remain shut down until the current investigation is complete. When it issued its emergency order on March 7, the PUC estimated the shutdown would last 10-14 days.
On Monday afternoon, about a dozen workers using heavy equipment probed the ground behind the Lisa Drive homes. A short distance away, several more workers stood on the train tracks which pass over the planned pipeline route.