HARRISBURG (May 2, 2018) – State Senator Andy Dinniman said the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) decision to resume operations on the Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline further highlights the lack of coordination between state agencies and the need for better pipeline safety standards and protections for residents.
“I fully understand that the PUC functions within its own narrow legal boundaries and regulatory scope,” Dinniman said. “However, my constituents and I still have very strong doubts about the safety of this pipeline project.
“The bottom line is the construction of Mariner East 2 and 2X have potentially destabilized the geology of the surrounding area. If the geology is unsafe, then we still have very serious concerns and questions about the safe operation of Mariner East 1,” Dinniman added.
Today, the PUC voted to reinstate operations on ME1, citing investigative work and corrective actions conducted by Sunoco that it said have addressed the safety concerns that lead to the shutdown. Read the PUC’s press release, chairman’s statement, and order here.
In doing so, the PUC depending on evidence provided by Sunoco without allowing public participation or an independent professional geologic review of Sunoco’s analysis.
“It’s as if the PUC is saying, ‘We’re smarter than everyone else and we don’t really care what the public has to say,’” Dinniman said.
Earlier this spring, the PUC suspended operations on the ME1 pipeline after it was exposed at a site in West Whiteland by a sinkhole that apparently developed as a result of Mariner East 2 (ME2) and Mariner East 2X (ME2X) construction.
In ordering the suspension, PUC Chair Gladys Brown wrote “that permitting continued flow of hazardous liquids through the ME1 pipeline without proper steps to ensure the integrity of the pipeline could have catastrophic results impacting the public.”
Since then, Dinniman has filed a formal legal complaint and a petition for interim emergency relief with PUC to prohibit construction of the ME2 and ME2X in West Whiteland Township.
The complaint calls on the PUC to prohibit “the construction and operation of ME2 and ME2X in areas of West Whiteland Township” and “the operation of ME1 in West Whiteland Township . . . ” You can read it here.
The petition calls on the PUC to grant an injunction against the construction of ME2 and ME2X and the operation of ME1 in West Whiteland. It is scheduled to be considered by the PUC on Monday, May 7. You can read it here.
In related news, on Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a public hearing in Chester County on Sunoco’s request to change pipeline construction techniques at two sites in West Whiteland Township. The company is seeking to switch methods from horizontal direct drilling (HDD) to conventional bore at one site and from HDD to a combination of construction methods at another site.
Residents can submit public comment on those applications until May 11, 2018. Comments can be emailed or postal mailed to: PA Department of Environmental Protection, Southeast Regional Office, Waterway and Wetlands Program, 2 East Main Street, Norristown, Pennsylvania, 19401, RA-EPWW-SERO@pa.gov.
In addition, DEP announced today that it has levied an additional $355,622 penalty against Sunoco Pipeline LP (Sunoco) for violations of the Clean Streams Law that occurred during the construction of the ME2 pipeline between May 3, 2017, and February 27, 2018
“So, we had a DEP hearing Monday, a PUC decision today, a DEP fine today, and another PUC hearing coming up this Monday. The pipeline process in Pennsylvania is confusing at best and hypocritical at worst. It seems like it’s designed to let pipeline companies pay a few fines to run roughshod over our communities, while state agencies operate in silos and citizens are confused by what amounts to a bureaucratic mess,” Dinniman said. “Imagine the hypocrisy of the PUC greenlighting operations on one part of this project, while DEP is still accepting public input on another part that is occurring in the same geologic area of the same township. That is precisely what’s happening here. It’s like one hand either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what the other is doing.”
Finally, Dinniman also took issue with the irony of the PUC recognizing “Safe Drinking Water Week” at today’s hearing.
“How you can allow highly volatile natural gas liquids to be transmitted through an 87-year-old pipeline that has been potentially destabilized in one breath and turn around and say you value clean water in the next is beyond me,” Dinniman said. “Worse yet, I fear that our state agencies never seem to learn. For instance, it appears that the PUC is taking Sunoco’s own geophysical analysis and tests at face value in deciding to let the company resume operations of Mariner East 1. Meanwhile, my constituents and I know better. We know what can happen when you take Sunoco at their word.”