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Dinniman Backs 3 Superintendents Calling for PUC Pipeline Safety Study
WEST CHESTER (October 24, 2018) – State Senator Andy Dinniman today backed three school districts – the West Chester Area School District (WCASD), the Downingtown Area School District (DASD) and the Rose Tree Media School District (RTMSD) – in calling for a safety investigation of Sunoco’s 12-inch pipeline as part of the Mariner East project.
In a letter dated October 23, the superintendents of the three districts, James Scanlon (WCASD), Emilie Lonardi (DASD), and Eleanor DiMarino-Linnen (RTMSD), asked Paul Metro, Manager of Gas Safety of Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to conduct a safety investigation into the almost 80-year-old, 12-inch pipeline which Sunoco plans to use in transporting hazardous and highly volatile natural gas liquids.
“We believe it is incumbent upon school districts to keep students, parents, and staff safe,” they wrote. “We also believe it is incumbent upon the PUC and the leaders of the state of Pennsylvania to keep its residents safe.”
Sunoco plans to link three new and existing pipes – a new 20-inch pipe (the original Mariner East 2), a new16-inch pipe (originally dubbed “Mariner East 2X”), and the repurposed 12-inch petroleum pipeline – in an attempt to salvage the long-delayed and controversial Mariner East pipeline project.
The PUC has indicated that it does not need to approve it for Sunoco to move forward.
“Sunoco is trying to cobble together this problematic pipeline after it was repeatedly delayed due to very real and very valid safety concerns,” Dinniman said. “Meanwhile, the PUC continues to refuse to conduct a safety investigation into the project, despite repeated calls from local schools, school districts, teachers, parents, students, and superintendents. What’s wrong with this picture?”
There are nearly a dozen schools and daycare facilities in Chester County (and 40 statewide) located dangerously close to or within the thermal impact or “blast zone” of the Mariner East pipeline project. Sunoco’s current plans to resuscitate an aging 12-inch line as part of the project now means that even more schools are likely in the line of fire, including some that may be potentially impacted on two or more sides.
Specifically, the superintendents asked:
- What is the risk for unprotected valve stations, currently many of these valve stations have temporary fencing without adequate protection from a possible accident?
- Is it safe to run natural gas liquid through this 12-inch pipe?
- Does this old 12-inch pipe contain shut off valves for emergency shut off in the event of a breach?
“While we are not experts in the area of safely transporting chemical products through a 12-inch pipeline we are often asked by our parents about our plans in the case of a catastrophic breach or explosion in this pipe. We need help from the PUC to answer the question about safety,” they wrote. “We understand that Sunoco is planning on transporting product in the near future. We all have developed safety and evacuation plans for hazardous disasters, however, our plans did not take into consideration the risks and dangers involved with moving product through an 80-year-old pipe.”
Meanwhile, no notification requirements whatsoever are in place to help protect students, teachers, and staff in the case of an emergency.
“At the bare minimum, our schools need to have lines of communication open with pipeline companies and operators and the PUC so that they know what pipelines are nearby and what the risks are in order to adequately prepare for an evacuation in the case of a potential emergency,” Dinniman said. “The fact that they don’t is inexcusable.”
In response, Dinniman has introduced Senate Bill 1257 to require pipeline operators to provide schools located within 1,000 ft of hazardous liquids and natural gas pipelines, with vital emergency response information, including how to respond to a leak or product release.
Dinniman said the PUC’s failure or refusal to exercise its authority over the hybrid Mariner East project coupled with the unanswered concerns of local school districts and superintendents, have led him to consider stronger legislative options in restructuring the agency.
“If the PUC can’t step up to do its job in approving pipeline plans, conducting a risk assessment, or even protecting our school children, I have to wonder what its purpose is?” Dinniman asked.
He noted that Scanlon and Lonardi, who represent Chester County’s two largest school districts, previously wrote separate letters to the administration with similar concerns about the Mariner East project in March. Lonardi even wrote a second letter over the summer when Sunoco announced plans to repurpose the 12-inch pipeline – a pipeline that, she noted, presents an “even larger safety threat” to the district as it runs very near to five of its school buildings.
Scanlon and Lonardi received cursory responses to their first two letters, with the governor writing that, “The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) alone has the authority to perform a risk assessment or safety study, and we have agreed with others’ calls for such a study to be undertaken.”
Yet, the PUC still has not done so.
“Our children deserve a response from the PUC in terms of these safety and evacuation concerns,” Dinniman said.