WEST CHESTER (October 5, 2018) – State and federal authorities did not properly examine a potential leak during a recent test on Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline project in West Whiteland Township, state Senator Andy Dinniman said today.

“Just when you think it can’t get any worse, we have another textbook example of bureaucratic bumbling and the failure of government oversight on something as vitally important as potential leaks in a hazardous materials pipeline,” Dinniman, who serves on the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said. “Keep in mind, this comes right around the same time as a pipeline explosion in Beaver County. And by the way, we’re still waiting on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for straight answers and the results of an investigation into that disaster.”

Following hydrostatic testing of Sunoco’s 12-inch pipeline last month, a homeowner on Shoen Road notified both Sunoco and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) of the presence of a “fluorescent green-yellow” coloring in groundwater on her property.

A hydrostatic test is a way to test pipelines for strength and leaks. It involves filling the pipe system with a liquid, usually water, which is dyed to aid in visual leak detection, and pressurization of the vessel to the specified test pressure.

In this case, the homeowner noticed an apparent brightly-colored substance – indicating a potential leak in the pipe – in groundwater emerging on her property and immediately notified authorities.

However, from there, things – like the water that appeared in her yard – get murky. According to e-mail correspondence:

  • Sunoco representatives insist that the hydrostatic test determined no leaks and initially try to chalk up the “green-yellow” coloring to algae.
  • However, a federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) liaison confirms that Sunoco was, in fact, using fluorescent green-yellow dye in the hydrostatic testing of the 12-inch line.
  • Still, Sunoco insists the test determined no leaks.
  • Then PHMSA and PUC officials are, at first, led to believe the groundwater in question was tested and produced a negative result for dye/tracer contamination.
  • Yet, later, after persistent questioning, PHMSA confirmed that the groundwater itself was not tested to determine if the coloration was due to potential leak. According to an e-mail from a PHMS liaison, “No sample was taken.”

Dinniman said the situation was the same one that has played out time and time again on the Mariner East Pipeline project.

“Literally, every time problems have occurred on Mariner East it seems like residents are the ones who detect them and notify our government agencies. They’re the real watchdogs.  And the initial response of our government agencies is almost always to blindly take Sunoco’s word and make a vague declaration that ‘all is well’,” Dinniman said. “But when we press for clarity, documentation, and evidence, the truth comes out one way or another. Usually, it leads to a reversal in the original assessment and a revelation that nothing has been done despite the very real potential of a catastrophic risk to public safety.”

In response, Dinniman requested that the PUC require Sunoco to:

  1. Again conduct hydrostatic testing of the 12-inch pipeline in Chester and Delaware Counties. 
  2. Notify property owners, school districts, libraries, and businesses along the pipeline route so that they can properly recognize changes in groundwater conditions related to hydrostatic failures.  
  3. Require that if any increased groundwater containing coloration tracing associated with the hydrostatic testing occurs, this groundwater be tested to determine any association with pipeline failure.

Dinniman also pointed out that the Shoen Road area is known to have potentially problematic geologic formations, including faults, as it is where an aquifer was damaged and multiple residential wells negatively impacted by Sunoco’s drilling operations last summer.

In addition, the 12-inch pipeline has a long history of leaks, including 33,516 gallons of gasoline as recently as mid-June of this year, a 2015 leak in Edgemont Township (Delaware County), and 70,000 gallons leaked in West Whiteland Township in 1987 that remains to be completely remediated.

“Frankly, you have to wonder how safe this pipeline is and worry how long this can go on before someone gets hurt or worse,” Dinniman said. “The PUC is the state agency charged with pipeline safety in Pennsylvania. There are numerous examples of it falling short on this project. If it cannot fulfill its legal and moral obligation to keep our residents, children, families, and communities safe, it’s time to rethink its role and how it operates.”