DEP reaches settlement with environmental groups over Mariner East 2 pipeline

The agency is agreeing to do more to enhance public participation around pipeline projects

  • Marie Cusick

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental protection has reached a settlement with three environmental groups that were challenging its issuance of permits for the embattled Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The pipeline is planned to carry natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia; it has faced numerous problems throughout its construction — including spills, sinkholes, and legal disputes, like this one.

In 2017,  the Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Mountain Watershed Association challenged the construction permits DEP issued to Sunoco for the project.

“While this doesn’t cure the violations that have already taken place, it puts in place critical protections for future projects,” said Maya van Rossum, of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “Holding this company accountable and holding the DEP accountable at every turn is vitally important.”

Lisa Dillinger, a spokeswoman for Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, said the settlement agreement will have no impact on the project.

“From the outset, Sunoco has maintained that the permits were properly and lawfully issued by PADEP and fully protective of the environment,” she wrote in an email.

The state Public Utility Commission has temporarily halted construction on the project in West Whiteland, Chester County due to safety concerns.

On Thursday DEP agreed to pay $27,500 to the environmental groups, money that will help them recoup costs. The agency also agreed to implement new policies aimed at enhancing public participation around pipeline projects.

Among other things, DEP has pledged to post more information online, including non-privileged, non-confidential materials it receives from companies seeking pipeline permits, as well as technical deficiency letters it issues to pipeline companies, and final decision documents.

The DEP will also convene a new stakeholder group, to weigh in on pipeline-related issues.

“DEP is pleased that we were able to reach an amicable agreement with the appellants, resolving all claims related to the issuance of these permits while incorporating new processes to ensure that future pipeline projects learn from the mistakes made by Sunoco in implementing this project,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “To be clear, DEP will continue to conduct vigorous oversight to ensure compliance with the conditions of the permits and will issue enforcement actions as necessary.”

Alex Bomstein, of the Clean Air Council, said the goal is to make it less likely that future pipelines will be “the disaster Mariner East has been. It’s a forward-looking settlement.”

The stakeholder group is reminiscent of Governor Tom Wolf’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, which was convened in 2015. Its aim was to bring best practices to the state’s Marcellus Shale-related pipeline building boom; however, the meetings often devolved into a circus-like atmosphere with frequent disruptions by protesters. Seven people were arrested at its final meeting, and its report has largely been ignored. 

Van Rossum said the new group will be different.

“The Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force was an absolute fiasco,” she said. “It was designed to be a biased group, focused on making it easier for pipeline projects to get permitting and approvals. The kind of stakeholder group coming out of the settlement agreement is focused on trying to bring together a more balanced group of voices — particularly expert voices coming with the agenda of having better, safer, ways of proceeding with pipeline projects when they have been approved.”

Up Next

Family's fight with driller illustrates legal loophole that exposes Native American, historical sites