PUC moves to shut down Mariner East I & II

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

State officials moved Wednesday to shut down two liquid natural gas pipelines — one still under construction — after it was determined that the construction work was causing sinkholes in West Whiteland.

Use of the Mariner East I pipeline, in use since 1931, was halted Wednesday and construction on the Mariner East II pipeline was shutdown again by the state Public Utilities Commission, Wednesday, after concerns that the project was causing sinkholes in parts of Chester County. Both pipelines are expected to be sidelined 10 to 14 days.

Critics of the Mariner II project are argued that Energy Transfer Partners LP (parent company of Sunoco Pipeline) – which owns and operates the pipeline — has not taken proper care to build the project safely, protect local properties and ground water. At least three sinkholes have been discovered — thought to be directly related to construction of Mariner II East — in the immediate area of Mariner East I.

“It appears that Sunoco was so rash in trying to rush through a second pipeline (Mariner East II) that now operations have been halted on its original pipeline (Mariner East I),” State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19), a public and vocal critic of the pipeline project, said. “Basically, they have two pipelines and right now that can’t use either of them.”

The PUC order requires testing of the old pipeline in the area of Lisa Drive in West Whiteland, plus detailed geological surveys of the path and area before the commission will allow the older pipeline to return to service. The PUC is expected to discuss the issue at its meeting next week.

PUC Chair Gladys Brown, writing the emergency order, said she agreed that it would be too dangerous to continue allowing pressurized liquid natural gas in the older pipeline with the emergence of sinkholes in the area.

“I agree with the BIE (Bureau of Inspection and Enforcement) 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,” she wrote in the emergency order. “To the extent that the relief requested may be injurious to the members of the public who are shippers on the Mariner East 1 pipeline, the risks to the general public outweigh the risks to the shippers.”

Once again, local groups called on Gov. Tom Wolf to put a stop to construction of Mariner East II, citing poor state oversight and unsafe geological conditions on the planned route.

“We have called, e-mailed, petitioned, written letters, and even met with Gov. Wolf to ask him to do his duty to protect us,” said Caroline Hughes, a spokesperson for Del-Chesco United, one of the grass roots groups fighting to halt the pipeline. “It’s time for him to put an end to this dangerous project before further property damage or loss of life becomes part of his gubernatorial legacy. Children are unsafe in their schools, bedrooms and back yards. Just how much risk does Gov. Wolf expect us to bear so that Sunoco can export ethane to Scotland for plastics production?”

Others said that the sinkholes are just the latest in what is a poorly planned project that would put the public at large in danger — and pushed Wolf to end the project.

“Governor Wolf’s inability to protect his constituents from a corporation acting with total negligence and disregard for the safety of Pennsylvania communities is, frankly, embarrassing.” said Food & Water Watch organizer Sam Rubin. “Through their reckless construction of the Mariner East II, they have created extremely dangerous conditions for the Mariner East I. An explosion this close to homes would be catastrophic. That Sunoco has created these conditions is clear and final proof that this whole pipeline project needs to be shut down for good. We’re still waiting for Governor Wolf to act.”

Dinniman said the order reconfirms what he and citizens have been saying about this project for two years.

“It’s a crying shame that a thorough geologic assessment related to the risk of putting another pipeline in this area was not completed in the first place. Obviously, it should have been, “ Dinniman said. “Chairwoman Brown clearly wrote that without a clear analysis of the geology in this area, which is along a fault line, we could be at risk of a catastrophic event. We thank Chairwoman Brown and the PUC for doing this review and ordering the suspension.

“At the end of the day, after all we’ve been through on this project, how can anyone trust Sunoco? I will continue to work with the citizens to remain vigilant. We certainly are prepared to review, scrutinize, and question anything Sunoco says related to the required tests and analysis of the site,” he added.

Earlier this year, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection halted construction citing various violations of the construction permit. Work had resumed following a fine and corrective measures.

The original pipeline is an eight-inch line, largely buried, that has been in operation since 1931. The new pipeline would be a 16-inch line, running largely along the same path — and has faced local opposition for a number of years.

        

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