Trouble Mariner East construction of a pipeline at Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County has restarted, which prompted the builder of the project to claim that it plans to complete the 350-mile-long natural gas liquids line in the first quarter of 2022, more than two years after its initially planned completion.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has released new permits to Energy Transfer, parent company of Sunoco Pipeline, which allows the resumption of construction of a section of pipeline at Marsh Creek Lake. It had been on standby since August 2020 after the company dumped between 21,000 and 28,000 gallons of drilling mud fluid out there. This section is one of the last steps in the line that remains to be completed.
The updated permits include a new route that allows surface trenching rather than horizontal directional excavation underground. They were approved despite filing in October by the State Attorney General of 48 charges who allege environmental crimes committed by the Texas-based company.
From the outset, there were delays in the construction of Mariner East. It has caused dozens of drilling mud spills in the state’s wetlands and waterways, led to dangerous sinkholes in Chester County and polluted drinking water supplies throughout the length of the project.
The company bought at least five homes in Chester County after its work damaged the aquifer and created sinkholes. The DEP has issued more than 120 notices of violation to the company, which has paid more than $ 20 million in fines and assessments since construction began in February 2017. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission temporarily close operation of the Mariner East 1 pipeline in 2018 for safety reasons.
People living near the latest spill and politicians say construction on the last section of the pipe should be halted, at least until the company has finished cleaning up Marsh Creek Lake.
State Senator Katie Muth, a Democrat who represents parts of Chester and Montgomery counties, said she was “furious” at the new permits allowing construction at Marsh Creek.
“I think this should be completely stopped until they’ve actually tested the public and private water supplies throughout. [the pipeline route], “she said.” Nobody did that. This project was flawed from the start.
Muth said she has already received calls from voters worried about how the current construction could affect groundwater and drinking water supplies, and whether neighboring backyards would be flooded again.
People who live nearby fear that because Energy Transfer is due to renew all of its original licenses in February, the company is rushing to this final section.
“They are moving very fast,” said Christina “PK” DiGiulio, who lives near Marsh Creek and uses drones to document construction. “It was a reckless process. This is the DEP allowing a criminal entity to run its pipe without carrying out appropriate impact studies on groundwater and to protect the health and safety of people.
Muth said that while there is no law preventing businesses facing criminal charges from continuing with construction, the permits could be withdrawn.
“The DEP has the legal authority to revoke or deny any license to any operator with a history of repeated violations,” Muth said. “So [DEP] does not use his authority. You can’t say they’re underfunded forever, and the laws aren’t strong enough, when they have the power to revoke or deny, and they never have.
A DEP spokesperson said the consent order and agreement between the company and the DEP and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources brought the company into “compliance with the law and regulations, thus leaving no legal reason to delay decision making on license modifications.
“Regarding the charges brought by the AG’s office, the DEP continues to monitor the matter closely and will exercise its regulatory authority as it sees fit,” wrote DEP spokesperson Virginia Nurk. , in an email.
Three controversial pipelines
The Mariner East project consists of three pipelines transporting highly volatile ethane, propane and butane: the 8-inch Mariner East 1 line; the 20-inch Mariner East 2 line; and the 16 inch Mariner East 2x. The lines transport gas from Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania to the company’s 800-acre terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County, where most of the product is shipped to Scotland to make plastics.
The company now plans to convert part of the Mariner East 1 to transport refined products, such as gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and heating oil. the “Access to Pennsylvania” The line would connect refineries in the Midwest to central Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley and upstate New York.
Opposition to the Mariner East Project has been particularly fierce in the densely populated suburbs of Philadelphia, where its enemies claim that pipes carrying highly volatile natural gas liquids pose a security threat while failing to provide power to Pennsylvanians. . And they say that continuing to commission fossil fuel infrastructure flies in the face of global, national and national climate change goals.
“He’s one of the most reckless drillers in the country,” Muth said. “No, the pipeline is not safe. It goes through neighborhoods, schools, retirement homes, libraries, places where it shouldn’t be. And there is no need for this pipeline in the Commonwealth. “
Muth pointed out the explosion Energy Transfer’s 2018 Natural Gas Liquids Revolution Pipeline in rural Beaver County. After being in service for only a week, the pipeline ruptured in a landslide, engulfing a hill in flames and forcing evacuations. The explosion released 3 million cubic feet of gas and sent flames 150 feet into the air. No one was injured in the explosion, but it killed several pets, damaged vehicles and destroyed six high voltage power transmission towers and a power line.
A spokesperson for Energy Transfer said the company is operating its Mariner East pipelines safely.
“There are no safety concerns with the ongoing operations of our pipelines active in this area, which have been operating safely for years,” said spokesperson Lisa Coleman.
“As we work towards the completion of construction of Mariner East 2, we will continue our strong program of geophysical testing to ensure the safety of the community, the safety of our employees and the safety of the environment. Additionally, our construction protocols in this area include the installation of steel casing that will help permanently stabilize the soil around pipelines.
Coleman said the natural gas liquids transported through the Mariner East lines and exported to the Marcus Hook Terminal in Delaware County are “critical to our supply chain as the building blocks used to make the products we use. daily”.
As part of the deal that included the new permits, Energy Transfer agreed to dredge Lake Marsh Creek for drilling mud and pay $ 4 million to the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Potential carbon capture
The company is also looking to get into carbon capture, particularly at the Marcus Hook terminal. During a call for results in November, Energy Transfer executives discussed a feasibility study to capture carbon dioxide from flue gases and deliver it to food and beverage companies through their networks. pipelines.
“We are also reviewing other projects related to our assets that involve capturing CO2 from processing plants for use in enhanced oil recovery and sequestration,” said Coleman. “We continue to believe that our franchise will allow us to participate in a variety of projects involving carbon capture or other innovative uses while continuing to reduce our carbon footprint. “
Construction at Marsh Creek is expected to be completed by mid-February, she said.