NOTE: This press release contains updated information as of 3:30 p.m.
HARRISBURG (June 14, 2018) – The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission today voted 3-2 to maintain the shutdown of the Mariner East 2 (ME2) and 2X (ME2X) pipelines in West Whiteland Township while allowing Sunoco to resume operations on the existing Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline.
State Senator Andy Dinniman, who brought the original complaint and emergency petition that halted all three pipelines, called the decision a “mixed bag.”
“I don’t understand why the PUC would affirm some of the public safety issues at stake involving the construction of Mariner East 2 and 2X, but completely ignore others involving Mariner East 1,” Dinniman said. “After all, that’s the one that potentially presents the most immediate danger to my constituents.
“I’ll be thoroughly reviewing the order with my staff and attorney as we explore any and all options moving forward,” he added. “The bottom line is our position has not changed. We continue to have very real and significant concerns regarding the stability of Mariner East 1 – an 87-year-old pipeline carrying highly volatile natural gas liquids within close proximity of schools, playgrounds, senior care facilities, neighborhoods, a library, a shopping mall, and a rail line.”
Last month, PUC Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth H. Barnes sided with Dinniman, agreeing that the ongoing construction of the problem-riddled pipeline project in a densely populated, high-consequence area constitutes an “emergency situation which presents a clear and present danger to life or property.”
Today, the PUC approved a motion by Chairwoman Gladys Brown modifying that stop-work order. According to the motion, “While there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that ME1 is being operated unsafely in West Whiteland Township, I do find that there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that the construction on ME2 and ME2X should remain halted until Sunoco meets the requirements that will be imposed by this Motion.”
Under the motion, Sunoco has 20 days to provide inspection and testing protocols, a comprehensive emergency response plan, and current safety training curriculum for employees and contractors. It must also provide verification that it has the necessary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection approvals and permits to move forward with construction.
Dinniman pointed out that Judge Barnes’ original decision highlighted the lack of testing on or knowledge of the stability of ME1, as well as its history of leaks and other serious safety problems.
“There is insufficient evidence to show whether the pipe has been properly tested for repurposing. There is no HAZOP report showing the integrity of the ME1 and its welds. No report was offered to show the pipe materials, pipe wall thickness, depth of cover over Mariner East 1, distance of Mariner East 1 from Mariner East 2 and 2X, distance of Mariner East 1 from residences, schools, hospitals, malls and other large gathering places,” Barnes wrote.
ME1 was constructed during the Great Depression and originally carried petroleum products from Marcus Hook west. Today, it operates in a west to east direction and is permitted to carry liquid propane, butane, and ethane.
“Within the past year, ME1 has experienced three leaks, all in high consequence areas. Although there was no ignition, Sunoco failed to identify leaks on its pipeline and failed to report the leak or spill to proper authorities when they occurred. This appears to be on the surface a failure to follow proper protocol and safety procedure designed to protect the public,” she wrote. “One leak occurred in Morgantown, Berks County, PA on April 1, 2017, and was discovered and reported by a landowner. From the time the landowner informed the operator of a probable leak, it took approximately 90 minutes to shut the pipeline down. In that time nearly 1,000 liquid gallons of a natural gas liquids mixture was released. This is a dangerous quantity of hazardous gas.”
Dinniman also said Sunoco brought the situation on itself and due to its lackadaisical approach to the Mariner East project, lawmakers are now taking a closer look at the entire pipeline and natural gas industry in the Commonwealth.
“It’s Sunoco’s own faulty practices that have caused harm to the whole pipeline process. They’ve amassed more than 200 violations in Pennsylvania, putting the whole pipeline industry in such a position,” he said. “On top of that, Sunoco’s lawyers now are trying to question my standing in the case, when the administrative law judge already determined that I have standing. What Sunoco can’t stand is that I am strongly representing and protecting my constituents because that’s what I was elected to do.”