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Dinniman: Joint Hearing Highlights Need for Stronger Pipeline Safety Laws
HARRISBURG (March 20, 2018) – State Senator Andy Dinniman said today’s joint hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy and Consumer Protection and Licensure Committees highlighted the dire need for stronger pipeline safety laws in Pennsylvania.
“Time and time again today we heard that state regulations and state agencies are falling woefully short in protecting Pennsylvania communities, families, and children from potential health and safety threats related to the growing network of pipelines crossing our Commonwealth,” Dinniman, who serves on the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said.
Specifically, Dinniman pointed out that:
- Pennsylvania lacks any regulation over the placement of intrastate pipelines.
- Communities in Chester County have been given varying information regarding how to react in the event of a pipeline emergency.
- Current regulations actually prevent the sharing of vital information with local emergency response organizations.
- Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the nation that does not regulate land agents.
- Communities impacted by pipelines in southeast Pennsylvania do receive adequate funds from the natural gas impact fee.
Regarding Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline project, Dinniman also noted that the company has used its eminent domain status to supersede local zoning regulations and that it has repeatedly failed to properly notify both homeowners and requisite state agencies of potential health and safety impacts related to its drilling operations. In addition, he said that state agencies and the current administration have failed to enact an independent risk, safety, and geophysical assessments of the project despite repeated calls from lawmakers and impacted residents.
Glady Brown, Chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, testified about the commission’s recent decision to enact an emergency order suspending operations on the Mariner East I pipeline related to problems stemming from the drilling of Mariner East II.
“Our inspectors are continuing this rigorous inspection program of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 project throughout construction, conducting inspections at least weekly. The Commission will also continue to monitor and inspect the Mariner Project after construction is completed, consistent with our duties as a state agent for PHMSA (Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Coalition) charged with enforcing the federal pipeline safety laws,” she said.
Brown also indicated that she believed that the PUC could handle the collection and disbursement of fees should the legislature enact a “pipeline impact fee,” as suggested by both Dinniman and state Senator Lisa Boscola.
Andrew Williams, Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs of the Environmental Defense Fund, said that negative impacts related to pipeline drilling are largely preventable through proper planning and oversight.
“As the second largest natural gas producing state, with a very strong economic future, it is imperative that proper and responsible oversight be exercised over the pipeline industry. It is not enough to say that most companies will do the right thing, we are learning first-hand what will happen when even one pipeline operator does the wrong thing,” Williams said. “We believe that with the proper focus and a commitment to the fact that Pennsylvania needs to pass new laws that balance the inherent risk to communities that pipelines pose with the economic needs of the pipeline operators, it can be done.”
Williams added that in addition to Pennsylvania, Sunoco has experienced similar problems related to its drilling operations in both Ohio and West Virginia.
Melissa DiBernadino of Goshen United for Public Safety highlighted the way Sunoco exploited regulatory loopholes in its Mariner East Pipeline project and subsequently potentially placed many residents at risk.
“In Pennsylvania, and only in Pennsylvania, a pipeline operator is allowed to route a pipeline wherever they choose,” she said.
Rebecca Briton of the Uwchlan Public Safety Coalition pointed out that a lack of regulations has allowed the Mariner East II pipeline route to run through high-consequence and densely populated areas, including alongside five schools that serve thousands of children and staff members.
“I thank both committee chairs, Senator Yaw and Senator Tomlinson, for calling today’s hearing. I hope that the testimony we heard here today can help build upon a growing bipartisan coalition to pass important legislation to better protect our residents from potential threats related to pipelines,” Dinniman said. “We don’t oppose natural gas or the economic benefits that come with it. All we ask is that pipelines be installed and operated safely, responsibly and with respect to private property and environmental rights, as well as local land use decisions.”