Judge Overturns Shutdown of $3B Pipeline Project

WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA – OCTOBER 6, 2017: Directional drilling machinery for a natural gas liquids pipeline is seen through a window of private residence in Exton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)


August 26, 2020

By Mike Soraghan, E&E News

A judge has overruled Pennsylvania environmental regulators and allowed Energy Transfer LP to resume underground drilling for the Mariner East 2  pipeline in the location of a reported spill.

The company said the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had overreacted to the discharge of water at an existing seep location when it shut down construction at the site and was causing “significant economic losses.” State Environmental Hearing Board Judge Bernard Labuskes agreed and said Energy Transfer’s Sunoco Pipeline LP subsidiary could resume operations.

“Sunoco may restart drilling immediately,” he wrote, adding that his order could be reconsidered if there are new environmental problems. A hearing has been scheduled for Monday.

DEP had shut down the operation on Thursday, after a spill was reported in West Whiteland Township in the Philadelphia suburbs. Energy Transfer filed a challenge Sunday.

In addition to economic losses, the company also warned that an extended shutdown could cause the borehole that’s been drilled to collapse.

The construction project had a spill in the same spot in October 2019. The company and state officials spent months negotiating a plan to resume drilling before work began again in July. On Aug. 8, a preexisting seep was found to be flowing.

Energy Transfer said it followed the requirements of the plan it had worked out with the state and said the project should not have been shut down. Yesterday, an Energy Transfer spokeswoman said the company “will continue to comply with our work plans approved by the DEP.”

Pipeline critics have alleged that an aquifer was damaged in the incident, which Energy Transfer has denied.

The 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline carries natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale region to a processing facility near Philadelphia. Energy Transfer is using a temporary pipe to move liquids while Mariner East 2 construction is completed.

The $3 billion project, which is being carried out by Sunoco, has been slowed by spills, sinkholes and a yearlong regulatory standoff linked to an explosion on an additional Energy Transfer pipeline in the state.

The project has drawn opposition from many in the path of the 20-inch pipe in the Philadelphia suburbs, who say the pipeline shouldn’t have been built so close to homes and schools. They say a rupture could cause a catastrophe in the densely populated area.

The spill in West Whiteland Township came to light around the same time as a spill that leaked about 8,000 gallons of drilling mud into Marsh Creek Lake, part of a local park (Energywire, Aug. 12). That spill caused several local legislators to call for Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to halt construction and revoke the pipeline’s permit.

Last week, Energy Transfer was fined $355,000 for previous spills into streams and wetlands in eight counties (Greenwire, Aug. 21).

The DEP permit issued to Energy Transfer is reportedly the subject of an FBI investigation, one of several probes linked to the project. Charges against an Energy Transfer security manager in an alleged “buy-a-badge” scheme were dismissed by a judge earlier this summer (Energywire, June 29).

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