Delaware Riverkeeper Network says “severe and ongoing” permit violations are causing “significant harm” to the river basin. It wants the commission to suspend Mariner East 2 construction.
Mariner East: A pipeline project plagued by mishaps and delays
Sunoco Logistics Mariner East pipeline project includes three lines — the Mariner East 1, the Mariner East 2, and the Mariner East 2X, all of which carry or will soon carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) from the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania across the state to a processing and export terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
In 2014, Sunoco completed its conversion of a gasoline pipeline originally built in the 1930’s to ship gas from Philadelphia area refineries to rural Pennsylvania. Reversing the flow of the 8-inch line, Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 now carries NGLs across Pennsylvania to its suburban Philadelphia facility where it is shipped overseas to manufacture plastics.
The Mariner East 2 would expand capacity to 345,000 barrels of NGLs a day. The 20-inch diameter high pressure pipeline tunnels beneath 17 counties, cuts through 2,700 properties with a 50-foot right-of-way, and crosses more than 1,200 streams or wetlands. The company used eminent domain procedings to secure right-of-ways from reluctant landowners, including one family in Huntingdon County that continues to sit in trees to protest the pipeline construction. Dozens of landowners are still tied up in litigation with the company and the state Supreme Court could decide to hear the cases.
Construction on the $2.5 billion project began in February 2017, after the Department of Environmental Protection identified hundreds of deficiencies in its water-crossing and earth-moving permits. Since then the DEP has issued more than 30 violations to the company for polluting wetlands, waterways, and destroying about a dozen private water wells. In the summer of 2017, DEP, along with several environmental groups, agreed to a consent decree with Sunoco after dozens of drilling mud spills led to the pollution of high value wetlands and trout streams, and the loss of drinking water for residents of a Chester County community.
In April, 2017 Sunoco Logistics merged with Energy Transfer Partners, the builder of the controversial Dakota Access line. Completion of the line is now about 18 months behind its original schedule. The Mariner East 2X is a 16-inch NGL line that will run parallel to the ME2.
In March 2018 Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission ordered a temporary shutdown of the Mariner East 1, saying it could have a “catastrophic” effect on public safety if it leaks. The commission said the pipeline had been exposed by the appearance of sinkholes near the construction of the two other Mariner pipelines.
Even though the oil and gas industry is exempt from obtaining the permits – unlike other kinds of industrial construction such as powerlines — that exemption disappears when a water violation occurs, argued Aaron Stemplewicz, senior attorney for DRN.
Sunoco has said the project is nearly finished. Demonstrators said the project’s violations — and the fact that the line was recently struck by a contractor — are reasons to shut it down.
In a letter to the PUC, the commissioners said local officials haven’t seen some key emergency information, and are learning about “the majority of issues” regarding the Mariner East project from media and residents.
The company said that the judge’s decision means a utility would have to prove a project is safe even if no “credible evidence or properly-supported expert testimony” has been offered to show a project threatens public safety.
An administrative law judge said the project poses “an imminent risk to the public,” and more study is needed before construction can resume. Sunoco’s parent company ripped the decision as “a significant departure from the law.”