The owner of a pipeline project that runs through 17 Pennsylvania counties – including Lebanon County – has been charged with 48 counts of environmental crimes by the state attorney general.
Read more: Previous coverage of Mariner East in Lebanon County
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, working with the 45th statewide investigative grand jury, announced the charges against Sunoco and its parent company, Energy Transfer, LP, owner of the Mariner East pipeline on October 5. 2.
“There is a duty to protect our air and our water, and when companies negligently harm these vital resources, it is a crime,” Shapiro said in a statement. “By charging them, we can both seek to hold them criminally responsible and send a clear message to others about how seriously we take protecting the environment and public health.”
According to the statement posted on the Attorney General’s website, criminal charges were recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection after the Grand Jury learned that, “during the construction of the pipeline, Energy Transfer repeatedly allowed thousands of gallons of drilling fluid to escape underground, sometimes surfacing in fields, backyards, streams, lakes and wetlands.
The spills occurred at many sites along the 350-mile route of the pipeline through Pennsylvania, where Energy Transfer had permits allowing horizontal directional drilling as a construction method, the attorney general’s statement said. The complaint specifically denounces the use of unapproved drilling fluid additives during horizontal directional drilling in the Snitz Creek / Zinns Mill Road area in the Township of West Cornwall, among more than a dozen other sites in the Commonwealth.
Energy Transfer “failed to report losses of fluid (to the DEP) … on several occasions, despite the legal obligation to do so,” the document notes. “The Grand Jury discovered that there were several drilling locations where drilling fluid contained unapproved additives that entered Commonwealth waters – affecting the drinking water of Pennsylvanians who rely on water wells.”
The Grand Jury recommended that the energy transfer be charged with 22 counts of prohibiting the discharge of industrial waste under the Clean Streams Act, 22 counts of banning other pollution under the Clean Streams, two counts of illegal driving under the Clean Streams Act, and one count of illegal driving under the Clean Streams Act.
This case is being continued by Chief Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Franz.
No jail time
Despite the criminal charges, no one at Energy Transfer will face jail time, Shapiro explained – and he believes new legislation is needed to toughen penalties for environmental violations.
“Under the laws of our state, if found guilty, this company will be fined and returned,” he said. “There is no jail time for these environmental crimes, and the fines are not enough. This is why we are calling, once again, for tougher laws to hold these companies accountable and protect the health of Pennsylvanians, and demand that the DEP strengthen the independent oversight we need to ensure the industries they regulate.
An August 2020 spill dumped up to 28,000 gallons of contaminated liquid into Marsh Creek Lake in Chester County, when early estimates indicated only 8,100 gallons had been spilled. Between 2017 and 2020, more than 80,000 gallons of contaminated fluid were “dumped in and around the lake during the construction of this single segment of the pipeline,” the press release reveals.
Homeowners close to the construction area told the Grand Jury “dangerous impacts on their drinking water,” the statement said. Residents said they saw gray and coffee-colored water after construction began near their homes.
In another example, said Shapiro, a Delaware County resident who allowed Energy Transfer to drill on her property quickly noticed sediment in her water that destroyed several devices in her home and later tested her supply. water and found high concentrations of E. coli and fecal coliforms.
“Pennsylvanians from affected communities have testified that thousands of gallons of drilling fluid have been lost underground – groundwater and contaminated lakes, rivers and streams,” Shapiro reported. “What they said was consistent: the energy transfer started to drill, the fluid started to leak, their drinking water was affected, the DEP was not informed and no one was held criminally. responsible. These fees are changing that, as of today.
Delaware County Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who first referred the case to the state attorney general’s office, said Pennsylvania criminal attorneys “have made it clear that the environment and our communities will be protected , using the tools offered by the criminal justice system “.
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