DEP approves ME2 modifications in West Whiteland, but PUC green light still needed | StateImpact Pennsylvania Skip Navigation

DEP approves ME2 modifications in West Whiteland, but PUC green light still needed

Restart of construction would help Sunoco in efforts to start operations by end of September

  • Jon Hurdle
Crews work to stabilize sinkholes in a West Whiteland Township, Chester County neighborhood on March 3. The sinkholes appeared  near a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Eric Friedman / Submitted

Crews work to stabilize sinkholes in a West Whiteland Township, Chester County neighborhood on March 3. The sinkholes appeared near a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Sunoco won regulators’ approval on Thursday for modified plans to build its Mariner East 2 pipelines in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township, but was still awaiting a green light from the Public Utility Commission to resume construction there after a shutdown of more than two months.

The Department of Environmental Protection approved modified permits for water obstructions and erosion control at two sites, meeting a requirement set by the Public Utility Commission when it said DEP must approve the modifications before construction can restart.

DEP spokesman Neil Shader said the DEP has completed its review of permit modifications for the pipeline project in West Whiteland.

But the Public Utility Commission, which halted construction on the project in the township starting in May, said late Thursday it had not received documentation from Sunoco that it would need before deciding whether to fully lift its construction ban.

The company must file “verifications or affidavits” from the DEP before the PUC decides, according to a PUC order issued Aug. 2. As of about 5 pm Thursday, there was no indication that those documents had been filed, according to spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen.

While DEP has completed its review of permits that needed major modifications, it still needs to re-evaluate conditions at two other West Whiteland sites specified in the PUC order before construction can resume.

If finally approved by the PUC, the permit modifications would end a construction hiatus in the township ordered first by a PUC administrative judge and then partially upheld by the full PUC in June. The judge and some members of the PUC argued that the new pipelines threaten public safety because of unstable local geology and proximity to an operational natural gas liquids line.

With a ban lifted, Sunoco would be able to move forward with one of the final stages of construction to meet its goal of beginning operation of the multibillion dollar natural gas liquids line by the end of September.

The permit modifications reflect Sunoco’s plan to change from horizontal directional drilling to conventional bore at one drill site and to add conventional bore and open trench construction to HDD at the other site, the DEP said.

West Whiteland is among dozens of sites along the 350-mile pipeline route where construction has caused spills of drilling fluid into wetlands and private property. The spills have prompted more than 60 notices of violation by the DEP and a court order last summer for Sunoco to re-evaluate whether local geology is suitable for HDD or other construction methods.

In July 2017, water turned cloudy in some private wells in West Whiteland after Sunoco punctured an aquifer. The company subsequently paid for most of the affected residents to be connected to public water. In late 2017, sinkholes started to appear at an ME2 construction site at Lisa Drive, a West Whiteland neighborhood.

Now, the changes in drilling methods are expected to avoid any further water issues, the DEP said.

“As a result of the changed methodology, potential impacts to a public water supply well, other water resources and sensitive areas are expected to be avoided,” DEP said.

The approvals follow “substantial and thorough” reviews by technical staff and with consideration given to public input gathered through an extended comment period and a public hearing, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement.

But state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester County), an outspoken opponent of the pipeline project, accused the DEP of ignoring public input into the permit modifications.

“It comes as no surprise that DEP would approve these permits in West Whiteland,” said Dinniman, who has a pending legal case asking the PUC to stop all ME2 construction in the township. “This is just the latest example of how the process favors Sunoco at the expense of private property, the environment, and public safety. In fact, it raises the question of what the purpose of a public hearing was when several hundred residents turn out to oppose the permit modification and DEP goes forward as planned, ignoring citizen input.”

The Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, which advocates for the cross-state Mariner East project, welcomed the DEP’s action.

“DEP’s thorough review and acceptance of these permit modifications are proof that the regulator and Sunoco both acknowledge the need to alter construction plans in this area to ensure the safety of the environment and community,” said Kurt Knaus, a spokesman for the group. “DEP continues to fulfill its duty to the public as a strict regulator, ensuring, as always, that every voice is heard.”

Sunoco did not respond to a request for comment.

Up Next

Lancaster, Pa. among first cities in the world to get LEED certification