This has been a very active time in Chester County with regards to the Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 pipeline construction, but we are not talking about the actual construction. No, most physical construction activities, at least in West Whiteland Township, has temporarily stopped due to safety concerns, thanks in most part to the work of State Senator Dinniman.
Dinniman gets Involved
On May 1st, State Senator Dinniman filed a petition for Interim Emergency Relief before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to halt the construction of the Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 pipeline in the wake of sinkholes, believed to be a result of the pipeline construction in West Whiteland Township. Dinniman and his constituents are concerned about their safety. Dinniman filed the petition not only to stop the construction of the pipeline but to also have Sunoco answer the public’s concerns over the pipeline project.
On May 21st, Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes issued an order for interim emergency relief including, but not limited to, halting further work on the pipelines which includes Mariner East 1, 2 and Mariner East 2X pipeline. The order also requires Sunoco to conduct extensive geophysical and geotechnical tests along the actual and proposed routes for the pipeline, conduct public risk assessments regarding the persons, property and environment located within West Whiteland Township, and to present the findings to the Commission and Mr. Dinniman and the other parties within thirty (30) days of the date of entry of this Order.
Sunoco claims the Mariner East 2 project, the first of the two new 350-mile pipelines, is approximately 98 percent complete. Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners LP, said in a statement that the judge’s order, it is a “significant departure” from the PUC’s procedures. They further stated, “The entire energy industry should be concerned about today’s order and consider this result when making decisions regarding future capital investments in the state as it upends Pennsylvania’s entire regulatory environment.”
Chester County and West Whiteland Letters
Just this past week, both the Chester County Board of Commissioners and the West Whiteland Township Board of Supervisors have sent letters to the Public Utilities Commission urging them to uphold the suspension of the Mariner East Projects ordered by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes. Both claim that although the testimony is extensive, it barely scratches the surface of the concerns addressed by the residents of Chester County.
As a result of the drilling, the county has experienced multiple spills of drilling “mud” that contaminated streams, aquifers, wells and drinking water while residents in West Whiteland who live near the construction complain about the loud drilling noise near their homes, vibrations that rattle glassware on shelves, and overpowering diesel exhaust they can smell or taste. The noise and vibrations can go on for 12 hours per day, and six days per week.
The two letters also address their concerns that Sunoco does not make emergency responders aware or even communicates any information about these issues. The Commissioners of Chester County further stated their Department of Emergency Services learns about the issues involving the pipeline through local media reports and members of the community. They also find it horrifying that Sunoco has not shared their Risk Assessment and Integrity Management Plan with the emergency responders, only sharing their risk assessment with Chester County’s Department of Emergency Services after a briefing was requested by the Department of Emergency Services on the condition that the Department signs a non-disclosure agreement forbidding discussing the contents of the risk assessment with anyone outside of the briefing. The letter which was sent on June 5th alleges Sunoco is not complying with the Judge’s order, which was issued in late May, to release said information. As a result of the non-disclosure agreement, the Department of Emergency Services and local first responders are limited in what information they can share to the concerned residents who wish to know about evacuation plans in case of a pipeline emergency.
The Commissioners of Chester County and the West Whiteland Township also acknowledge the representatives from Sunoco and the contractors working for them have not answered their questions and tried to address their community’s concerns. However, while they appreciate their cooperation and time, both parties feel that these issues need to be addressed by the leadership of Sunoco, who they believe has shown no regard for the extensive impact the pipeline construction is having throughout the county.
The emergency order only stops pipeline construction in West Whiteland Township but various grassroots groups, like West Whiteland Township Residents for Pipeline Safety, Uwchlan Safety Coalition, Upper Uwchlan Residents for Safety, Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety and East Goshen Safety & Environmental Advocates, are requesting their elected officials to follow Senator Dinniman lead in stopping the pipeline. Many of these groups want the pipeline stopped completely while others are demanding more oversight and safety. These groups are not just confined to Chester County. The groups have been organizing in neighboring counties of Delaware, Lancaster, Berks and beyond.
Some may argue the train has left the station a long time ago and it cannot be stopped. As we stated earlier, Sunoco claims the current pipeline project is approximately 98% complete. So this leaves us wondering, how did it get to this point? Why try stopping the pipeline now? And is it possible that the Mariner East Projects could benefit everyone in the region in the near future? There are still many unknown questions worth probing. So to do so, we need to take a step back, over four years ago, and analyze the Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East pipeline projects, from the very beginning, which we plan to do in a follow-up article soon to come.