It’s been a long year for the Mariner East Pipeline project and there has been no shortage of outrageous, scary and downright unbelievable moments along the way. As we regroup, refocus, and reenergize our efforts in 2019, we wanted to look back at everything we’ve been through:
10. February – After suspending construction of ME2 for permit violations, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issues a historic $12.6 million penalty to Sunoco for permit violations related to the construction of the ME2. Sunoco pays the fine and continues on with construction. Dinniman says, “You cannot put a price tag on the health, safety, and well-being of our communities.”
9. March – Multiple sinkholes appear off homes on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland, forcing the evacuation of one family and jeopardizing the health and safety of others. Dinniman, who warned of the potential for sinkholes months earlier, calls on the PUC to immediately halt construction of ME2 and operation of ME. It approves an emergency shut down of ME1. The PUC allows operation of ME2 to resume a month later.
Dinniman also learns that Sunoco did not follow proper notification protocols when the additional sinkholes appeared and exposed the ME1 pipeline
8. April – Sunoco waits until Easter and Passover weekend to offer to displace and relocate residents of Lisa Drive, where the sinkholes have appeared, for four to six weeks while it investigates that geophysical conditions behind their homes. Sunoco’s investigation finds that Sunoco did everything right.
7. April (again) – More sinkholes open up near ME2 construction. Sunoco claims pipeline construction is not to blame for the holes, rather they are the work of large rodents. Despite the implications of massive-sized rodent infestation, residents remain more concerned about the dangers of a potential pipeline rupture.
6. May – PUC Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes sides with Dinniman’s petition for emergency relief, halting construction of the entire Mariner East project (ME1, ME2 and ME2X) in West Whiteland Township citing, “The ignition of such a potential vapor cloud could have catastrophic results. It would be injurious to the public to not slow down this project for further safety and pipeline integrity tests . . . ” In typical fashion, the PUC reopens ME1 a month later.
5. June – Residents discover what appears to be an exposed pipeline in Uwchlan Township. The PUC says it is ME1, that they knew about it and told Sunoco to watch it several weeks ago. Sunoco later says that it’s an inactive portion of ME1 and there’s nothing to worry about. Amazingly, no one loses an eye in all the finger-pointing.
Dinniman wonders if the PUC even knows where all of the pipelines are and what is going through them? He also asks, how can we be monitoring pipelines and not realize they are inactive?
4. August – Faulty sections of ME2 are quietly removed and replaced by Sunoco due to “coating flaws” or “coating issues.” The PUC is tight-lipped. Sunoco’s response seems to amount: “Nothing to see here.” Later, it is determined that corrosion concerns are an ongoing issue on Sunoco’s pipelines.
3. October – Sunoco’s hydrostatic testing of ME is apparently botched in West Whiteland Township. A homeowner notices an apparent brightly-colored substance – indicating a potential leak in the pipe – in groundwater emerging on her property and immediately notifies authorities. Sunoco first says it’s algae (the color is also chalked up to grass-clippings at one point), but Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) officials later confirm that a similar colored dye was used in the testing. Sunoco insists there are no leaks and finally it is learned that the groundwater in question was never even tested to check for a potential leak.
2. November – 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 a repurposed 12-inch petroleum pipeline – in an attempt to salvage the Mariner East pipeline project. Critics call it “Franken-Pipe,” probably too cute of a name for something so dangerous. 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.
1. December – The PUC’s own Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement clarifies that it never said the 12-inch line that is now part of the ME project is “safe” but that doesn’t mean that it’s “unsafe.” This confusing claim comes in a court filing in response to an assertion Sunoco made in the case of an emergency petition brought by seven residents to shut down the ME project due to safety concerns. Residents feel even less safe.
BONUS: Amid a criminal investigation by the Chester County District Attorney and multiple complaints pending before the courts, Sunoco announces that the rebranded ME2 is operational on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s.