The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement has filed a formal complaint (PDF) against Energy Transfer Partners (aka Sunoco Pipeline) for an April 2017 leak of the Mariner East 1 pipeline in Morgantown, Berks County, about forty miles from Lebanon.
The complaint indicates that Sunoco’s own records showed inadequate cathodic protection which caused the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement to allege that “there is a statewide concern with SPLP’s corrosion control program and the soundness of SPLP’s engineering practices with respect to cathodic protection.”
Cathodic protection helps prevent corrosion by providing an alternate source of electrons to satisfy the electrical current which otherwise causes rust formation. Cathodic protection has been mandatory on pipelines installed after July 31, 1971, with the Mariner East 1 having received this technology sometime during this period under the ownership of Atlantic Richfield.
The complaint recommends a civil penalty of $225,000 for the April 2017 leak in addition to requesting that a “remaining life study” be conducted on the ME1 pipeline to identify a forecasted retirement age.
The Mariner East 1 pipeline remains in use across the state. In Lebanon County, Energy Transfer Partners is at the tail-end of a multiyear project to lay newer pipe as part of the Mariner East 2 project, although the earlier pipeline remains in use. As reported last month, in some areas of the state the 1930’s era pipeline is actually being used to support the Mariner East 2.
The Mariner East 1 pipe has been deteriorating since installation. A 1951 article on the pipeline describes how rust and corrosion were removed periodically with a mechanical scraping device. The pipe was retrofitted to carry highly volatile liquids in 2013.
StateImpact PA spoke with State Sen. Andy Dinniman, who said that it appeared Sunoco was either unwilling or unable to determine which segments of the pipeline were safe.