In this file photo, Mariner East 2 pipeline construction crews work in the backyards of homes on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, on May 2, 2018 after sinkholes opened in the area. That caused one of the ME2 project's many delays.
Marie Cusick / WITF
Associated Press: FBI is investigating Wolf administration’s issuing of Mariner East pipeline permits
The Associated Press is reporting that the FBI has begun a corruption investigation into how Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration came to issue permits for construction on a multibillion-dollar pipeline project to carry highly volatile natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania.
The AP said it has learned that FBI agents have interviewed current or former state employees in recent weeks about the Mariner East project and the construction permits, according to three people who have direct knowledge of the agents’ line of questioning.
All three spoke on condition of anonymity because they said they could not speak publicly about the investigation.
The focus of the agents’ questions involves the permitting of the pipeline, whether Wolf and his administration forced environmental protection staff to approve construction permits and whether Wolf or his administration received anything in return, those people say.
Mariner East 2 carries volatile natural gas liquids from Marcellus Shale fields in Ohio and western Pennsylvania to an export terminal at Marcus Hook in Delaware County, near Philadelphia. It’s part of a three-stage project: Mariner East 1 involved reversing the flow of an existing line; the company has plans to build Mariner East 2x. All three lines will run along the same right of way.
In this 2018 file photo, Energy Transfer, the parent company of Mariner East 2 pipeline builder, Sunoco, works at Snitz Creek in West Cornwall Township, Lebanon County after a drilling mud spill during the summer.
Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Coleman said the company is not aware of any investigation and has not been contacted by the FBI.
Rich Raiders, an eminent domain attorney who has represented landowners fighting the pipeline, called the FBI’s investigation a “major development.” He said people have been concerned that “political actors” got involved in the permitting process.
“The fact that the FBI is involving itself in this matter tells me that a lot of the questions the citizens have been raising over time have some merit or potentially have some merit,” Raiders said. “The permitting process seemed to be unusual in that the questions being asked by the agency in the late 2016 deficiency letters never seemed to get answered.”
State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), who opposes the pipeline, welcomed the investigation.
“From the very beginning and at many times along the way, we have raised serious questions about the permitting process of the Mariner East pipeline project,” he said. “I hope that this development sheds a bright light on those questions and more.”
Eric Friedman, a member of the community group Del Chesco United for Pipeline Safety who said he believes Wolf directed the permits be issued despite the deficiencies in the applications, welcomed the FBI investigation. So did Food & Water Action Pennsylvania Director Sam Bernhardt.
“We have seen sinkholes, spills and water contamination, and a grassroots opposition movement has pushed his administration to stop the project before further disasters strike. Governor Wolf has refused,” he said.
Jon Hurdle / StateImpact Pennsylvania
Rosemary Fuller, an anti-pipeline activist, urged Gov. Tom Wolf to halt construction of the Mariner East pipelines.
Residents have said the pipelines, which transport propane, butane and ethane, pose a risk of explosion in the densely populated region of southeast Pennsylvania. In August, pipeline opponents met with Wolf at a construction site in East Goshen Township, Chester County. Activists urged him to shut down the project until they could be assured the lines are safe. Wolf said no.
Those investigations are focused on Energy Transfer. The company called Hogan’s investigation “meritless” and said that “Energy Transfer has not engaged in any form of criminal activity, and the issues referenced have already each been thoroughly investigated, reviewed, and ultimately resolved by the appropriate government agencies.”
The map shows the Mariner East 2 pipeline’s path across 17 Pennsylvania counties on its way to the Marcus Hook industrial complex in Delaware County, where the natural gas liquids it carries will be shipped overseas to make plastics. The map was built using state Department of Environmental Protection shapefiles of the route for which DEP issued permits. The line extends west into Ohio.
StateImpact Pennsylvania staffers Susan Phillips and Scott Blanchard contributed to this story.