Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Susan Phillips

Reporter

Susan Phillips tells stories about the consequences of political decisions on people's every day lives. She has worked as a reporter for WHYY since 2004. Susan's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election resulted in a story on the front page of the New York Times. In 2010 she travelled to Haiti to cover the earthquake. That same year she produced an award-winning series on Pennsylvania's natural gas rush called "The Shale Game." She received a 2013 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Journalism Award for her work covering natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. She has also won several Edward R. Murrow awards for her work with StateImpact. In 2013/14 she spent a year at MIT as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow. She has also been a Metcalf Fellow, an MBL Logan Science Journalism Fellow and reported from Marrakech on the 2016 climate talks as an International Reporting Project Fellow. A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, she earned her Bachelor's degree in International Relations from George Washington University.

DOE grid report says shale gas to blame for coal plant closures

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by Moody's this week says a glut of natural gas will "wreak havoc" on the region's electricity market.

courtesy of PJM

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by the Department of Energy this week says cheap natural gas is to blame for coal plant closures.

The Department of Energy says coal and nuclear are still needed to support the nation’s power grid, and the main reason for coal plant closures results from abundant, cheap shale gas production. The report had been ordered by Trump’s Secretary of Energy Rick Perry who backs coal and has said solar and wind threatened the reliability of electricity production.

The electric grid is in good shape for now despite tremendous changes in electricity generation, according to the report. Environmentalists had worried that renewables would be slammed in the report, they weren’t. The Department of Energy made it clear that the main reason for coal plant closures is cheap shale gas supplies, much more so than regulations or solar and wind subsidies.

But it provides suggestions for shoring up coal and nuclear, including curbing environmental regulations for coal such as New Source Review permits, which are aimed at limiting air pollution. And it encouraged speeding up permits for new nuclear plants. Continue Reading

Mariner East 2 builder sues North Dakota pipeline protestors

A protest sign at Camp White Pine near construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. (

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A protest sign at Camp White Pine near construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) is building the ME2. On Tuesday it filed a lawsuit against protestors of its Dakota Access line in North Dakota.

The pipeline builder behind construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline has sued activists who protested the company’s Dakota Access line in North Dakota last year. Energy Transfer Partners, which recently merged with Sunoco Logistics, filed a federal racketeering lawsuit in North Dakota on Tuesday. The complaint alleges environmental groups, including Greenpeace, as well as some individuals, were engaged in criminal activity to prevent pipeline construction and line the pockets of environmental groups through increased donations.

While the Mariner East 2 is currently under construction, ETP was successful in completing the Dakota Access line and it went into production this year.

The suit refers to the North Dakota protestors as “rogue eco-terrorist groups who employ patterns of criminal activity and campaigns of misinformation to target legitimate companies and industries with fabricated environmental claims and other purported misconduct, inflicting billions of dollars in damage.”

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Trump revokes Obama order protecting infrastructure projects from climate impacts

This April 26, 2017 photo shows Jim O'Neill walking through a flooded street in front of his home in Manahawkin N.J. after a moderate storm. He lives in a low-lying area near the Jersey shore, and is often affected by back bay flooding, a type of recurring nuisance flooding that's affecting millions of Americans and which experts agree has not been as widely addressed as oceanfront flooding, in part because potential solutions are much more difficult.

Wayne Parry / AP Photo

This April 26, 2017 photo shows Jim O'Neill walking through a flooded street in front of his home in Manahawkin N.J. after a moderate storm. He lives in a low-lying area near the Jersey shore, and is often affected by back bay flooding that is expected to increas due to sea level rise. President Trump revoked rules that would have required federally funded infrastructure projects to take rising sea levels into account.

President Trump has rolled back rules aimed at protecting federal infrastructure projects from rising sea levels and dangerous storms caused by climate change. Trump announced the move on Tuesday, at a press conference touting plans to fast track the building of roads and bridges.

Just before engaging in a hostile exchange with reporters over the violence in Charlottesville, President Trump said the current environmental rules governing construction of federal infrastructure projects created delays and costs.

“This overregulated permitting process is a massive, self-inflicted wound on our country,” Trump said standing at a podium in Trump Tower in New York City. “It’s disgraceful. Denying our people much needed investments in their community.” Continue Reading

Mapping Sunoco’s drilling mud spills


View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

This map was created by FracTracker Alliance with data provided by the Clean Air Council.

Sunoco’s pipeline construction has resulted in 90 spills at 42 distinct locations across the state, according to new information provided as part of ongoing litigation. The amount of drilling mud spilled into aquifers, streams and wetlands across the state is estimated at about 220,000 gallons.

The Clean Air Council, which has challenged the DEP’s permits to Sunoco to build the pipeline, acquired the information as part of discovery. Responding to a petition by the Council last week, a judge with the Environmental Hearing Board halted drilling in 55 locations. On Friday, the order was lifted in three locations for safety reasons. They include one in Cumberland County, and two in Lebanon County.

Fractracker created the map above, which shows the locations of the spills. For more on our investigation of the spills, click here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story put the number of drilling mud spill locations at 61, reassessment of the data puts it at 42.

Democratic lawmakers ask FERC to investigate Mariner East 2 pipeline builder

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Two ranking Democrats in Congress have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to further investigate the practices of pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners, which has merged with Sunoco Logistics, after spills and permit violations occurred on two of its major projects in three different states, including the Mariner East 2 pipeline here in Pennsylvania.

In a letter to FERC last Thursday, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., and Washington state Senator Maria Cantwell, detail recent spills in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and criticize the company for misleading regulators by destroying an historic home in Ohio. StateImpact reported recently on a judge ordering ETP/Sunoco to stop construction on a valve station in West Goshen Township, where the company began building a valve station at a location the township had not agreed to.

For more on StateImpact’s investigation into Sunoco’s construction issues, listen here:

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Sunoco’s offer to Chester County residents gets mixed reviews

A stake in the ground marks a pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / StateImpact PA

A stake in the ground marks a pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Sunoco has offered residents of West Whiteland Township, who had their well water tainted by a pipeline drilling accident earlier this month, lump sum payments in exchange for signing a release that would prevent them from suing the company with regard to any current or future damages related to impact to well water resulting from any current or future, pipeline construction.

The deal, obtained by StateImpact and published below, offers $60,000 to each household that decides to hook up to a public water supply. Included in that payment would be coverage for residential water bills for 20 years and a filtration system. The company would also cover the costs of hooking up the house to Aqua’s public water supply.

Those who decide to remain on their well water would get $11,000 up front, but retain the risk of any future impacts to their well water, including those that may occur from Sunoco’s construction of additional natural gas liquids pipelines through the area. Continue Reading

Judge halts all drilling on Mariner East 2 construction

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Sunoco is drilling beneath the lake as part of construction. A judge halted all drilling on the project Tuesday.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Sunoco is drilling beneath the lake as part of construction. A judge halted all drilling on the project Tuesday.

A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday ordered a two-week halt to all drilling for the construction of the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline after dozens of water contamination incidents and several environmental violations by the builder, Sunoco Pipeline.

Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board suspended drilling until August 7 when a state court will hear arguments from the company and its opponents over whether the suspension should be extended until another hearing on whether to withdraw permits for the $2.5 billion cross-state project.

The judge granted an order of “temporary partial supersedeas” to the Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Mountain Watershed Association which together are challenging the issuance of construction permits for the pipeline by the Department of Environmental Protection.

“The permits that are the subject of this appeal are hereby superseded effective immediately to the extent they authorize the permittee to conduct horizontal directional drilling,” the judge wrote in a one-page order.

However, the judge said the order could be modified if Sunoco submits affidavits explaining why halting drilling would damage equipment, compromise safety, or do more environmental harm than good at the 55 locations along the 350-mile pipeline route where the drilling is taking place during construction. Construction has not yet begun at 168 additional drilling locations. Continue Reading

DEP issues few violations, one fine for Sunoco’s pipeline construction spills

Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County, where school officials are seeking assurances on safety.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County in March. The company has spilled at drilling mud in dozens of incidents.. DEP has issued four violations, and one fine.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has issued four Notices of Violation, one consent order and one fine to Sunoco Pipeline for dozens of drilling mud spills that occurred along the length of the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction project. The DEP released a statement on Friday describing its efforts to manage Sunoco’s construction of the 350-mile long pipeline where drilling has caused water-contamination incidents in recent weeks.

DEP also provided a link to a list of 49 incidents, as well as copies of the Notices of Violations, one of which was issued on Thursday.

The agency fined Sunoco $87,600 and issued a consent decree on June 27 for 13 separate drilling mud spills that occurred between May and June in Cumberland County. The Notices of Violations report 552,000 gallons of bentonite mud spilled into LeTort Spring Run, an Exceptional Value wetland in Cumberland County. Exceptional Value waterways are those that are clean enough to support fish and wildlife, such as wild trout streams, or those that have high value recreational use.

In response to a Notice of Violation, Sunoco said on June 7 that it had “contained, captured and recirculated” the fluid back to the drill rig, and that it was not “discharged throughout the wetland.”

But the consent decree, dated about three weeks later on June 27 reports that Sunoco had not yet remediated the problem, and had shut down operations at DEP’s request on June 9. Up until Friday’s release, no public notification had been made of this incident. Continue Reading

DEP staffers warned superiors of dangers to private water wells from pipeline construction

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / StateImpact PA

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection official waved a red flag to higher ups in January over potential issues with Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline construction on private water wells.

“Though we don’t regulate it, this private well issue has the potential to really blow up…,” wrote Domenic Rocco, waterways and wetlands program manager for the DEP’s Southeast regional office. Rocco sent the email detailing his conversation with a worried resident of Delaware County who lived near the pipeline route. He also sent a long list of concerns DEP program staff had regarding the agency’s permit reviews of Sunoco’s construction plans.

The email recipients included Ann Roda, director of the office of program information, John Hohenstein, DEP chief of dams and waterways, and Donald Knorr, a water pollution biologist with the Southeast regional office. It was released as part of ongoing litigation challenging Sunoco’s permits.

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Mariner East 2 construction has resulted in dozens of spills, documents show

An aerial view of Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Construction of the pipeline has resulted in dozens of incidents where drilling mud was released into surface water and groundwater aquifers.

Jeremy Long / Lebanon Daily News

An aerial view of Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Construction of the pipeline has resulted in dozens of incidents where drilling mud was released into surface water and groundwater aquifers.

Construction of Sunoco Pipeline’s $3 billion 350-mile long Mariner East 2 pipeline resulted in at least 61 drilling mud spills from April 25 through June 17, 2017, according to newly released documents. The spills have occurred in ten of the 12 counties along the route and range from minor releases of five gallons to larger more serious releases of tens of thousands of gallons. The documents, pasted below, include reports of “inadvertent returns,” and were released by the Department of Environmental Protection as part of ongoing litigation by the Clean Air Council challenging the department’s issuing of water crossing permits for the project last February.

The Council wants the Environmental Hearing Board to suspend construction while its case is pending review, but has so far been unsuccessful.

The spills primarily contain bentonite, a muddy clay substance used as a lubricant in drilling beneath waterways during horizontal directional drilling. Bentonite is non-toxic but can do damage to drinking water wells by clogging up an aquifer. A recent incident in Chester County forced 15 families to switch to bottled water and the company has since agreed to pay to hook residents up to the public water supply after some resident’s water wells went dry, and others experienced cloudy water.

If a large amount of the clay enters streams and wetlands, it can impact aquatic life. The drilling mud has entered trout streams, Exceptional Value wetlands, ponds, groundwater aquifers and uplands. Continue Reading

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