The Clean Air Council has had enough with the Mariner East pipeline.
The Philadelphia-based agency has written to the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) demanding that construction projects by Sunoco and its parent company, Energy Transfer, be “immediately and permanently shut down” throughout the state.
“Specifically, we are demanding DEP to revoke existing permits and prohibit the issuance of any future permits,” Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel for the Clean Air Council, wrote in the Aug. 21 letter to state DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
The strongly worded letter is co-signed by representatives of some 30 organizations, including Pam Bishop and Doug Lorenzen of the Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County.
The letter notes the Aug. 10 spill of drilling mud into Marsh Creek Lake at Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County.
“While Sunoco initially admitted an inadvertent return of 100 gallons of drilling mud, the current estimate is over 8,000 gallons, a quantity with the potential to threaten both aquatic life and drinking water supplies,” the letter states. “This latest spill tops a list of over 200 known spills of drilling fluid during the construction of the Mariner East pipelines, including over 200,000 gallons of drilling mud spilled into Raystown Lake in Huntington County in 2017.”
The pipeline had a much smaller spill — 20 gallons of industrial waste — in Lebanon County’s Snitz Creek on Aug. 13, according to previous reports.
On Aug. 20, DEP announced more than $350,000 in penalties for various violations connected to the pipeline construction that occurred in eight Pennsylvania counties, including Lebanon County, between August 2018 and April 2019.
The fines aren’t having much of an effect, the letter states.
“Clearly, fines that DEP has levied against Sunoco/Energy Transfer over the years have done nothing to deter this operator from recklessly endangering public health, safety and the environment time and time again,” it says. “The fines are merely the cost of doing business. Sunoco has refused to ever take protection of our waterways seriously and has treated both residents and environmental laws as nothing more than an obstacle to making profit.”
The Clean Air Council and other agencies, along with more than 250 residents of the area, had asked DEP to deny Sunoco a permit for horizontal directional drilling at Marsh Creek State Park “because of the high risk of spills, which even Sunoco’s own geologist identified,” the letter argues. Nevertheless, it says, DEP approved the plan, paving the way to the most recent spill.
Minott then lists 14 additional reasons for the project to be shut down, stating that Sunoco “directed its consultants to downplay the extent of protected environmental features it would destroy to build the pipelines and went on to damage those resources,” “consistently failed to conduct proper geological and hydrogeological studies before beginning its disastrous drilling for pipeline installation at sites across the state,” “increased the pipeline system operating pressure beyond the approved pressure without informing regulators or the public, and then lied about it,” and “destroyed dozens of drinking water supplies, leaving some residents without clean water for years and counting.”
The $3 billion, 350-mile natural gas liquids pipeline project began construction in February 2017. Since then, according to previous reports, the DEP has issued about 100 violations to the company for polluting high-value wetlands, waterways and private wells.
The Mariner East pipeline carries “highly explosive propane, ethane and butane, the byproducts of natural gas (methane) extraction” under pressure from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to Marcus Hook on the Delaware River for shipment overseas to plastics manufacturers in Europe, previous reports have said.
“By allowing Sunoco to continue under the permits it issued despite all of this, DEP continues to fail to protect the public and the environment,” the letter to DEP concludes. “The department will NEVER be able to fine this pipeline company into compliance with the law.”