Sunoco may be forced to meet with county under initial ruling in Baker’s pipeline safety case

Wilmer Baker’s home in Lower Frankford Township is within the 1,000-foot safety radius of the Mariner East pipeline route. (Photo by Jason Malmont, The Sentinel)

By Zack Hoopes, The Sentinel
Dec 23, 2019 


A ruling issued Wednesday in Wilmer Baker’s case against Sunoco Pipeline gives the Cumberland County resident a partial victory in his effort to get the Mariner East pipeline operator to respond to his safety concerns.

The ruling was issued by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes, who heard the case on behalf of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, under whose jurisdiction Sunoco falls.

The ruling is an initial decision, and the PUC could modify the advisory order at a subsequent commission meeting pursuant to the evidence and legal statutes Barnes outlined in her ruling.

Barnes sides with Baker when it comes to his claims about Sunoco’s inadequate safety outreach, writing that Baker succeeding in “showing that [Sunoco’s] public awareness outreach in Cumberland County is not meeting regulatory requirements.”

“I consider this a victory that she’s publicly acknowledging there are problems,” Baker told The Sentinel on Friday..

In an email, Lisa Coleman, spokesperson for Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer, said the company is “currently processing the information in the initial decision to determine how it relates to our public awareness programs that are in place, including those in Cumberland County.”

Otherwise, Barnes’ opinion finds that Baker’s claims regarding the origin and quality of the steel used in the Mariner East builds are either unfounded or out of the PUC’s legal jurisdiction.

Barnes’ ruling would require Sunoco meet with the Lower Frankford Township supervisors and the Cumberland County commissioners within 30 days to schedule public awareness and education meetings.

Sunoco’s abrupt cancellation of a Lower Frankford Township meeting last year touched off some public sparring with the county commissioners over Sunoco’s apparent reluctance to conduct any meetings or training beyond what the county described as a “boiler-plate” response.

“It appears Judge Barnes has deliberately and forcefully laid out the case for greater transparency from Sunoco,” Cumberland County Commissioner Jim Hertzler said. “I think the judge’s preliminary decision sides with the position taken by the county.”

Under Barnes’ ruling, the pipeline operator would also be required to meet with county public safety officials within 30 days to discuss additional training or communication that the county may desire.

Sunoco will also have to submit to the PUC a written plan to improve certain deficiencies in its public awareness and emergency training programs within 90 days and will need to submit an audit of such programs within six months.


Baker’s complaint before the PUC centers on the Mariner East pipelines, which transport liquefied gas from hydrofracking sites in western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook processing facility in Philadelphia.

Sunoco’s right-of-way now houses three lines: Mariner East I, a line originally built in 1931 and recently repurposed for fracking liquids, as well as the newly built Mariner East II and IIx.

Baker’s home in Lower Frankford Township is within the 1,000-foot safety radius of the pipeline route, as are the homes of several of his friends and neighbors in the area just  northwest of Carlisle. Many of them testified before Barnes in support of Baker’s case.

Baker’s main charge was that Sunoco had sent out safety information to his rural community only intermittently, and left residents, many of whom are physically disabled, with questions as to exactly how they should handle a pipeline leak or possible evacuation.

Barnes agreed, writing that Sunoco’s limited response to Baker as well as the county commissioners “shows a ‘one size fits all’ approach to public awareness rather than an enhanced public outreach program and perhaps a lack of proper record-keeping or internal controls designed to meet regulatory compliance within the company.”

Barnes’ opinion cites regulations from the state code and from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and industry standards from the American Petroleum Institute.

In addition, Baker had sought to require Sunoco to install some type of alarm or early-warning system to detect leaks via pressure drops, or simply by adding an odorant to chemicals traveling in the pipeline so that residents could smell a leak.

As Barnes reiterated in her ruling, there are no hard requirements in current regulations for such provisions, and she ruled in Sunoco’s favor on that matter.

But the PUC is moving through a rulemaking process for pipelines, including matters of public awareness, pressure testing and leak detection, in accordance with its authority to create necessary safety rules.

The PUC’s enforcement division has submitted comment to the rule-making case “requesting odorization or in the alternative enhance[d] leak detection to identify small leaks,” Barnes wrote.

Thus, Barnes said, Baker’s intent may come to fruition, regardless of his own case, via the PUC’s rule-making process, which is a more appropriate avenue.

“Even if there is not a consensus on every regulation, there is at least formalized due process before requirements of an odorant and/or alarm systems are placed upon the operator,” Barnes wrote of the future rule-making.

During the in-person hearing for Baker’s case in July, Barnes had pressed Sunoco consultant John Zurcher over the industry’s ability to self-determine what is and isn’t a reasonable safety precaution, after Zurcher had described leak-detection alarms as “feasible but just not practical.”

Baker’s other assertions in his filings were generally denied in Barnes’ ruling.

This included Baker’s charge that the European-made pipes used in part of the Mariner II and IIx projects, which had been imported by a company subject to steel-dumping penalties by the U.S. Department of Commerce, should be replaced.

“The commission has not authority to direct Sunoco to replace any foreign made steel pipes or fittings with American-made steel,” Barnes wrote.

The PUC’s rule-making case regarding pipeline construction and safety ended its comment period in September and is under review.

Sunoco’s comment on the case makes it clear that the industry does not believe the PUC has the legal authority to further put requirements on the pipeline, potentially setting up a legislative issue in Harrisburg.

The lack of certain provisions in Pennsylvania’s pipeline laws, relative to other utilities, “means the General Assembly did not intend to grant the PUC regulatory authority to dictate installation/construction techniques for pipeline facilities,” Sunoco wrote.

The Cumberland County commissioners, along with several municipal governments in the county, submitted comments to the PUC’s rule-making case encouraging stricter public outreach requirements.

Sunoco lobbied the PUC for the Mariner East builds to be considered public utilities in order to have eminent domain powers; now, Hertzler said, the company seems to not want the responsibility.

“They can’t have it both ways,” Hertzler said. “Now, as a public utility, they have a fundamental responsibility to the public.”


NTSB Pipeline Accident Brief: Natural Gas Explosion at Minnesota Educational Facility

Full Pipeline Accident Brief Report: Natural Gas Explosion at Educational Facility Minneapolis, Minnesota August 2, 2017

Issued by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on December 2, 2019

Executive Summary
​On August 2, 2017, at 10:22 a.m., local time, a building on the north campus of the Minnehaha Academy, a private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was destroyed by a natural gas explosion. Figure 1 shows an aerial view of the north campus prior to the accident, with a yellow arrow pointing toward the explosion site. Figure 2 is a photograph of the accident site taken after the building explosion, with emergency responders and gas company personnel on scene. At the time of the explosion, two workers were installing piping to support the relocation of gas meters from the basement of the building to the outside. Two new meters mounted on an exterior wall were ready for the piping to be connected. While workers were removing the existing piping, a full-flow natural gas line at pressure was opened. The workers were unable to control the release of the gas; thus, they evacuated the building and warned others to evacuate. The explosion occurred during their evacuation. Two individuals were killed, and nine others were injured.

Probable Cause​
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the natural gas explosion at the Minnehaha Academy occurred when a pipefitting crew disassembled piping upstream of a gas service meter. Contributing to the accident was the lack of detailed documentation that clearly established the scope of work to be performed.


New Jersey DEP rejects PennEast’s permit application, setting back the project again

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has shut the door again on a bid by PennEast Pipeline to obtain crucial permits for its 120-mile interstate project.

In a letter to the company dated Tuesday, the agency deemed the company’s applications deficient, largely based on a federal court’s decision blocking the company’s bid to condemn state-owned lands to build its pipeline (at a projected cost of $1 billion).

The decision marks a new setback in a five-year quest by PennEast to build a gas pipeline from Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River, to Mercer County, N.J. It aims to bring cheap natural gas to markets in New Jersey and the metropolitan area, but has encountered stiff opposition in both states.

Without the permits, the project is unlikely to be built, at least under its current proposed route, which crosses 49 separate properties owned by the state, most of them permanently preserved for agricultural, recreational or conservation purposes, largely with taxpayer dollars.

“Not necessarily,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for Rethink Energy NJ, referring to PennEast’s likely appeal of last month’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. “It’s another brick in the wall against this project.’’

PennEast vowed to press forward with the project.

“PennEast is confident the legal actions will be resolved favorably and the long-standing legal precedent under which FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has operated to bring needed, clean, reliable, and affordable energy to consumers will be upheld,’’ said Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for the company.

“The recent public statements by natural gas utilities in New Jersey expressing serious concerns about the lack of infrastructure capacity and an inability to reliably serve families and businesses who depend on natural gas service, underscores the need and public benefit of the PennEast pipeline,’’ Kornick said.

But critics of the project question its need, particularly at a time when New Jersey and other states are trying to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Many environmental groups have urged Gov. Phil Murphy to impose a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, whether they be new gas pipelines or new gas-fired power plants.

DEP’s rejection occurs at the same time the governor came out on Wednesday night in a call-in radio show on WBGO opposing a big new gas-fired power plant in the Meadowlands. The agency’s actions signal a possible shift in the Murphy administration’s stance on allowing new fossil fuel projects, advocates said.

“Gov. Murphy and the NJ DEP are to be applauded for standing in defense of the rule of law, our environment, and our communities,’’ said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.


Overpressurized Gas Distribution System Caused Explosions, Fires: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts

National Transportation Safety Board News Release September 24, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board determined Tuesday that Columbia Gas of Massachusetts’ deficiencies in management and oversight led to overpressurization of a natural gas distribution system which resulted in a series of fires and explosions in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts.

The Sept. 13, 2018, accident occurred after high-pressure natural gas was released into a low-pressure gas distribution system in the northeast region of the Merrimack Valley. One person was killed and 22 people, including three firefighters, were transported to area hospitals. The system over-pressure damaged 131 structures, including five homes that were destroyed.Prior to the overpressurization event a Columbia Gas-contracted work crew, which included a Columbia Gas inspector, was performing a Columbia Gas-designed and approved pipe-replacement project at an intersection. The contracted crew was working on a tie-in project that bypassed the existing cast-iron line and directed gas pressure to a new plastic line. The bypassed cast-iron line was still connected to the primary regulator control lines, providing input to the gas pressure regulator used to control system pressure. Once the contractor crews disconnected the cast-iron line, the section containing the control lines began losing pressure. Since the gas regulators did not sense system pressure, they responded by opening fully, allowing high-pressure gas to enter the low-pressure system.

“Catastrophic tragedies like this should never happen,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “When tackling major repair work that has the potential to impact a community, all precautions and planning should be considered and coordinated before, during and after the work has been done.”   

In the investigation discussed Tuesday, the NTSB found Columbia Gas of Massachusetts should have first relocated the control lines to the newly installed plastic main line after the existing cast iron main line was replaced. The NTSB noted, as part of its probable cause, that a low-pressure natural gas distribution system designed and operated without adequate overpressure protection contributed to the accident.As result a of the investigation, the NTSB issued five new safety recommendations with two issued to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, one to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety, and one to NiSource, Inc.  Thirty-one states each received one safety recommendation.  These recommendations address safety issues including adequacy of natural gas regulations, project documentation, project management, risk assessment, emergency response and safety management systems.

The urgent safety recommendations issued earlier in the investigation are available at https://go.usa.gov/xVx73.

An abstract of the final report, which includes the findings, probable cause, and all safety recommendations, is available at https://go.usa.gov/xVdTY.

Links to other publicly released information about this investigation are available at https://go.usa.gov/xVpR5.

Contact: NTSB Media Relations
490 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594
Keith Holloway
(202) 314-6100


Pipeline Rules Adopted Years After Deadly Explosion, Spills

Matthew Brown, Associated Press Updated 1:06 pm PDT, Tuesday, October 1, 2019

San Bruno, California.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. transportation officials on Tuesday adopted long-delayed measures that are meant to prevent pipeline spills and deadly gas explosions but don’t address recommended steps to lessen accidents once they occur.

The new rules from the Department of Transportation apply to more than 500,000 miles of pipelines that carry natural gas, oil and other hazardous materials throughout the U.S.

In the works for almost a decade, the rules came in response to a massive gas explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people in 2010, and large oil spills into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 and the Yellowstone River in Montana in 2011 and 2015.

The rules require companies to more closely inspect underground pipelines, including in rural areas and after catastrophic weather events. They also require better record-keeping so companies can monitor lines in some cases installed decades ago.

Left unaddressed were longstanding recommendations by safety officials to install valves that automatically shut down pipelines following accidents. Also absent were requirements for more advanced systems to detect pipeline ruptures.

Those issues were being addressed through a separate, ongoing rule-making process.

Industry groups and safety advocates backed the adopted changes. In February, they joined to prod the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to finalize the rule for gas transmission lines after it had been repeatedly delayed.

“It doesn’t seem to us like any of those rules should have taken 10 years to pass … Everybody thinks these are common-sense, small regulations,” said Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Washington-based group that formed after a 1999 gasoline pipeline break and explosion killed a teenager and two 10-year-old boys.

While the rules were pending, pipeline companies moved on their own to make safety improvements such as developing guidelines for identifying and repairing cracked lines and responding to pipeline emergencies, according to the Association of Oil Pipelines.

Federal regulators are expected to soon release their proposals for pipeline shut-off valves and rupture detection equipment. A separate proposal due sometime next year would extend safety regulations to so-called gathering pipelines that transport natural gas from drilling locations.

Congress also is considering changes to the government’s pipeline safety rules through legislation that would re-authorize the program for the next four years.

Virus Leads Pipeline Agency to Ease Job Qualification Rules

Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison


By Sylvia Carignan, Bloomberg Environment, March 23, 2020

A federal safety agency is helping hazardous material transporters and pipeline operators prepare for the spread of Covid-19 by easing staff training and qualifications requirements.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a stay on enforcement March 20, applicable only to requirements for pipeline operator employee qualifications and training. The agency issued a second stay on enforcement Monday on training requirements for hazardous material carriers.

The pipeline industry is preparing to operate with a workforce potentially reduced by illness or quarantines, said Bryn Karaus, who focuses on pipeline regulation in her position of counsel for Van Ness Feldman LLP in Washington.

Qualified employees are required to conduct specific tasks, like inspecting pipelines for corrosion or leaks. During the pandemic, if training isn’t available, pipeline operators may have to substitute other employees, Karaus said.

The agency consulted Karaus, among others, on the pipeline operator memo issued March 20.

The March 20 stay on pipeline operations enforcement eases requirements for:

  • The minimum qualifications for employees who work on pipeline safety and operations;
  • The maximum number of hours control room employees, who monitor remote pipeline operations, are permitted to work; and
  • Training for control room employees.

The agency is also refraining from taking enforcement action against hazardous material carriers who are unable to provide recurring training as required by federal regulations, it announced Monday.

The stay on enforcement for hazardous material transporters comes “in response to unprecedented changes in business practices” related to the coronavirus. PHMSA’s policy is intended to minimize disruption in the supply chain, the Monday notice said.

Limited Resources

The March 20 stay eases requirements for pipeline operators’ employees to submit to random drug testing throughout the calendar year. During the pandemic, labs that process those tests may be overwhelmed by Covid-19 tests instead, Karaus said.

The Department of Transportation, which oversees PHMSA, issued guidance for regulated companies and its own staff Monday regarding drug testing. Federal employees may be able to get testing done at a later date, according to the guidance.

The March 20 stay doesn’t relieve pipeline operators of the responsibility to comply with other safety regulations. Operators must continue to use “trained, non-impaired workers” to maintain pipelines and carry out control room tasks, the agency’s memo said.

Pipeline operators who can’t comply with regulations because of the pandemic must explain their circumstances to the agency and describe the alternate safety precautions being taken.

Lynda Farrell, founder of the Pipeline Safety Coalition, was concerned that the decision to stay enforcement on pipeline regulations that are too lax could create a risk to public safety. The coalition describes its mission as working “with local residents, legislators, educators, scientists and engineers, and other non-government organizations on the various safety aspects of the fossil fuel pipeline system.”

“In this short term, I personally find it hard to understand relaxing drug testing and control room regulations that could prevent a potential incident in an already stretched state of emergency,” she said.

Karaus said the agency may take additional measures to adjust to pipeline operators’ needs during the pandemic.

“It will be an evolving, ongoing, developing issue,” she said.

The stay on pipeline operator training enforcement will remain in effect until further notice, according to the agency. The stay on hazardous material training enforcement will be in effect for 90 days.(Updates throughout with new information about hazardous materials safety.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

Implementing the Recently Published Gas Transmission and Hazardous Liquid Final Rules- Documents Now Available

On February 26 & 27, 2020 PHMSA held public meetings for Pipeline Safety officials to discuss with pipeline safety stakeholders the implementation of the gas transmission and the hazardous liquid pipeline final rules published in the Federal Register on October 1, 2019. PHMSA made available for comment draft frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers for both final rules that will be used to facilitate the implementation of the final rules. PHMSA also discussed the benefits of pipeline operators developing an effective safety culture, including safety management systems.

The meeting was web cast, and the documents presented are now available on the meeting website and posted on the E-Gov website: http://www.regulations.gov under docket number PHMSA-2019-0225.

Hazardous Liquid Rule Public Meeting Link:

Safety Management System/Safety Culture Workshop Link:

Gas Rule Public Meeting Link:

Ruptured Gas Line Forces Hundreds to Evacuate; Mississippi’s Torrential Rains May Be To Blame

Photo at ground zero of a large gas leak on Yazoo County that caused evacuations in the village of Sartartia. Source: Yazoo County EMA.


By Ron Brackett for The Weather Channel

A ruptured gas line forced more than 300 people from their homes and sent nearly four dozen to the hospital overnight in Yazoo County, Mississippi.

Emergency management officials said the rupture could be related to recent downpours in Mississippi. Saturated ground caved into a ravine and damaged the 24-inch pipe that was carrying carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Residents of Satartia, Mississippi, which is about 33 miles northwest of Jackson, were ordered to evacuate after the pipe broke about 7:30 p.m. Saturday in thick woods near Mississippi Highway 433.

The leak was discovered after residents began noticing a green gas and noxious odor, the Yazoo Herald reported.

Some people developed headaches and dizziness and some passed out, according to the Vicksburg Daily News. First responders went door to door checking on residents. Three non-responsive people were found in a vehicle on a gravel road off Highway 433 just before 10 p.m.

Emergency rooms filled in Yazoo County, and patients were directed to a hospital in neighboring Warren County, the Daily News reported.

All lanes in both directions on Highway 433 and Highway 3 were closed. A shelter was opened at Yazoo County Junior High School in Yazoo City.

Residents were allowed to return to their homes shortly after 9:30 a.m. Sunday, according to WLBT. The people taken to hospitals were expected to be ok, according to WLOX.

The pipeline belongs to Denbury Enterprises and is used for oilfield operations. The company shut off the gas when alerted to the rupture.

Mississippi has been inundated with rain in the past few weeks. Jackson has had its wettest start to a year on record through Feb. 22, according to weather.com meteorologist Christopher Dolce. Precipitation has totaled 22.85 inches since Jan. 1, which is more than 14 inches above the average to date.

Local news: https://www.wlox.com/2020/02/23/evacuations-underway-several-taken-hospital-due-natural-gas-leak-yazoo-co/

On this day in 1973: Staten Island liquefied natural gas explosion kills 40 workers

Feb 10, 2020 By Steve Zaffarano | zaffarano@siadvance.com


‘We can’t live like this’: residents say a corrupt pipeline project is making them sick

WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA – OCTOBER 6: Directional drilling machinery for a natural gas liquids pipeline is seen through a window of private residence October 6, 2017 in Exton, Pennsylvania. Many of the area’s residents complain of the incessant noise and vibration from 12-hours of drilling from the pipeline project. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Nina Lakhani in Delaware County, Pennsylvania for The Guardian, Mon 27 Jan 2020 05.00 EST


Every evening Erica and Jon Tarr load up their car with towels, toiletries, and dirty dishes, before driving their two-year-old daughter to a relative’s home to bathe, wash-up and eat a meal cooked in clean water. The Tarrs, who moved into their spacious detached home in semi-rural Pennsylvania last April, have relied upon bottled water and family generosity since June 2019 when their crystalline tap water first turned murky.

Since then, they’ve spent more than $32,000 dollars on new equipment, lab tests, bottled water, repairing pipes and parts damaged by the turbid water. It still isn’t safe, and they don’t know why. “It’s sad and frustrating, I can’t bathe my daughter, wash my hands or do a load of laundry, it’s like living in constant crisis. We’re not the only ones in this situation, but we feel so alone,” said Erica Tarr, 31, a paediatric nurse.

The clay-colored water appeared around the time of a drilling mud spill at a nearby construction site for the Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipelines – a beleaguered multi billion dollar project transporting volatile natural gas liquids from shale fields of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to an export facility in Delaware county, ready to ship to Europe to manufacture plastics.

The ME2 horizontal directional drilling (HDD) project – which is subject to multiple criminal and regulatory investigations – has contaminated surface and groundwater sources in hundreds of mud spills, and created sinkholes in parks, roads and back yards since construction began in early 2017. HDD drilling is particularly susceptible to spills known as inadvertent returns, in which lubricating mud erupts through weak spots in the rock.

But as the Tarrs’ tap water became increasingly turbid and the pressure plummeted, the pipeline company Sunoco Logistics, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer LP, insisted the project was not to blame. The Tarr family, like 13 million or more American households, relies on a private well for drinking water which they – not regulators – are responsible for monitoring and keeping safe. So, in October they installed a sophisticated filter system and drilled a new well in their picturesque wooded backyard, a couple of hundred meters from the worksite.

The water seemed fine for a few days, but then started smelling strongly of nail polish and burned Erica’s mouth when she tried brushing her teeth. Lab results detected toluene and MTBE – volatile organic compounds found in fuel.

According to local records, an old Sunoco fuel pipeline leaked tens of thousands of gallons of hazardous liquids close to the Tarr’s new well back in 1992. It’s unclear whether the underground legacy contaminants were disturbed by the current construction work. (A geologist hired by the company found that ME2 construction activities did not impact the Tarrs well.)

Then, in early January the tap water turned murky once again, John and daughter Evie got sick, and dark grainy sediment coated the cistern. “It’s a nightmare … living without water for so long is a nightmare,” said Tarr. “ It’s like we’ve been thrown to the wolves, left to figure it out … we can’t keep living like this.”

The Mariner East 2 pipeline project stretches 350 miles through 17, mostly densely populated counties. It runs alongside the 1930s Mariner East 1 gasoline pipeline, recently repurposed to transport butane, propane and ethane – which are odorless and highly flammable.

The US fossil fuel industry has surged over the past decade as a result of unconventional techniques that combine horizontal drilling and fracking to extract oil and gas from shale and other underground rock formations.

ME pipelines have the capacity to transport enough ethane to manufacture just under a billion single plastic bottles every day, according to analysis by Food and Water Watch, a not-for-profit accountability watchdog.

The project has been mired in controversies from the start: In early 2018 the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) shut down the project for a month and fined Sunoco $12.6m for what it called “egregious” violations of environmental laws during its first year of construction. Shortly after, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ordered a temporary shut down after sinkholes opened up at a construction site in West Whiteland Township, Chester county.

In January 2020, the DEP issued a $2m fine for another series of drilling fluid spills in 2017 which contaminated Raystown Lake in Huntingdon county. Some were not reported for over 500 days. “There have been questions about the quality of the permits since they were granted in 2014 … there is a pattern of malfeasance that is established and known which was overlooked when permits were granted by the DPE and Wolf administration,” said Sam Rubin, from Food and Water Watch.

A spokesman for Democratic governor Tom Wolf said he believes in strong environmental protection and responsibility for permit holders. “The significant fines, penalties, oversight and accountability by the DEP under his administration are evidence of exactly that.”

Still, the project is also subject to ongoing criminal and civil investigations which include:

  • A FBI corruption investigation into Wolf’s administration handling of the permit process
  • State and county investigations into alleged corruption, criminal misconduct and environmental crimes
  • At the end of 2019, security personnel working with Energy Transfer were charged with bribery and criminal conspiracy for allegedly recruiting, hiring, and hiding payments to state police officers. The company says the charges have no merit.
  • A homeowner is suing Sunoco, claiming its drilling punctured the aquifer supplying his water well and led to E coli contamination that made him ill
  • Residents who live close to the pipeline – known as the Safety Seven – have an ongoing case with the regulator, the PUC, to shut down the project on the grounds it poses unacceptable safety risks, and the company has failed to develop a credible evacuation plan.

“Only in Pennsylvania can an operator create a documentable track record over decades of serial destruction and contamination and continue to be permitted by state agencies and aided by legislators in further rolling back environmental protections,” said state congresswoman Danielle Friel from Chester county, who was elected in 2018 on an anti-pipeline ticket.

Chester county commissioners have slammed the company for “appalling” lack of pipeline information, accusing the company of withholding safety information, putting profit over safety, and creating mistrust among residents – allegations Energy Transfer denies.
Friel added: “Pennsylvania has a corruption problem. Through a massive lobbying, campaign finance and public relations effort, the fossil fuel industry has successfully manipulated our legislature, our local governments and regulatory agencies.”

Lisa Coleman from Energy Transfer said: “We are committed to adhering to the rules and regulations specified in the approved permits as we complete the construction and restoration phases of our projects … We believe our project was properly permitted by all agencies.”

Despite mounting public opposition and fears about the company’s safety record, emergency plans and alleged criminal wrongdoing, Wolf refuses to halt the project.
This intractable position has left communities dealing with contaminated water and environmental hazards feeling desperate.

Rosemary Fuller – one of the Safety Seven – lives a couple of miles from the Tarrs in a large gated property where the family moved in 2003, smitten by the “idyllic peaceful” location. They signed a permanent easement – or right of way – over to the company in 2015 after being assured the project was safe and unobtrusive, according to Fuller, 60. The pipelines run along the main road which runs through the well-to-do semi-rural neighborhood.

Almost five years later, noisy construction sites are dotted throughout the community, there are six sinkholes within a mile or so of Fuller’s house, and in November a valve site situated within this densely populated residential township leaked gasoline. Residents called emergency services after smelling the strange odour.

Dangerous bacteria including E coli were detected in the Fuller’s well water last July, since then the family has relied on bottled water delivered by Sunoco.

Last week, a film of petrol blue coloured grease was visible in the cistern and sink where Fuller brushes her teeth.

The project has had a huge impact on the whole family: Fuller’s husband has incurable cancer which means his immune system is compromised, and therefore spends most of the week away from home to avoid getting sick from the water. Meanwhile Fuller spends her time analysing lab reports, risk assessments, and company documents which are spread across the kitchen counters and dining table.

“It’s a nightmare, I’m dealing with this all day every day, when I should be with my husband. I have nightmares that my daughter drives into a sinkhole,” said Fuller tearfully. “I feel so unsure about the present and the future that I just want rid of my home.”

2020: A Year of Pipeline Court Fights, with One Lawsuit Headed to the Supreme Court

Sections of steel pipe are staged near a private residence for construction of the ETP-Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline in Exton, Pennsylvania on June 5, 2019. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/03012020/pipeline-lawsuits-2020-supreme-court-appalachian-trail-eminent-domain-natural-gas by Phil McKenna, January 3, 2020

4th Circuit nixes key permit for Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citing environmental justice concerns

Pastor Paul Wilson of Union Hill Baptist Church stands in front of a group protesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (© Chesapeake Climate Action Network)

By Robert Walton, In Utility Dive

  • The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down a permit necessary for Dominion Energy to construct its Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), concluding Virginia regulators failed to consider issues of environmental justice when approving a new compressor station.
  • The court vacated the air quality permit and remanded it back to Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board for further review. Dominion officials said they will immediately begin to work with the state to resolve the issues identified by the court.
  • Opponents of the 600-mile pipeline called the latest setback for ACP a “huge victory” and noted the project has suffered a series of defeats. Last July, the court concluded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not sufficiently considered the project’s impacts under the Endangered Species Act. 

Dominion maintains the $7.5-billion pipeline is “needed now more than ever” for economic growth and to reduce carbon emissions, but the court called out regulators for failing to adequately consider the impacts on local populations.

The Fourth Circuit concluded Virginia regulators relied too heavily on air quality standards, leading it to dismiss issues of environmental justice and the impact on nearby communities.

“Even if all pollutants within the county remain below state and national air quality standards, the board failed to grapple with the likelihood that those living closest to the compressor station … will be affected more than those living in other parts of the same county,” the 47-page decision finds.

The proposed 54,000-horsepower compressor station would be located near homes in the Virginia community of Union Hill, which project opponents say is predominantly African American, rural and low-income.

The Air Pollution Control Board “rejected the idea of disproportionate impact on the basis that air quality standards were met,” the court charged. “But environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked, and the board’s failure to consider the disproportionate impact on those closest to the compressor station resulted in a flawed analysis.”

Dominion officials expressed confidence that the court’s decision would not slow the project.

“We will immediately begin working with the state to resolve the procedural issues identified by the court and are confident this can be completed in a timely manner,” the company said in a statement. “We expect the project will still deliver significant volumes to customers under our existing timeline, even as we work to resolve this permit.”

The pipeline is planned to run through parts of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, and includes three compressor stations. Dominion says the project is necessary to meet gas demand in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“New infrastructure will solve the chronic shortages of natural gas in Hampton Roads and eastern North Carolina and allow these communities to revitalize their manufacturing economy,” Dominion said. ” It will also provide the reliable natural gas we need to support the rapid expansion of renewables across Virginia and North Carolina.”

​Community advocates say this is the eighth time in less than two years that a federal court or agency has revoked or suspended permits for the project. Construction has been halted since last year.

“For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it’s the same story again and again,” Greg Buppert, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “Dominion tried to force a pipeline compressor station into a community where it didn’t belong, just like it has tried to force the pipeline through a national park, national forests, and steep mountains.”

SELC represented the local community in the case, and said Dominion will face a next challenge in February when the U.S. Supreme Court considers an appeal of a lower court decision rejecting another key permit for the project.

In 2018 the Fourth Circuit concluded the U.S. Forest Service was not authorized to approve the project to run under the Appalachian Trail, which is protected National Park Service land. The decision, which the Trump administration has disputed, halted work on the ACP and could have implications for other pipeline developments as well.

Original article: https://www.utilitydive.com/news/4th-circuit-nixes-key-permit-for-dominions-atlantic-coast-pipeline-citing/570005/?fbclid=IwAR2nd9RFDEID9Brd2wQgNxYIPwtTITYOWjMlrRkurQOUsRNZkuTTrpUB01Q

Colorado: Federal report on fatal Firestone explosion blames gas leak, government approval to build homes without pipeline maps

FIRESTONE, CO – APRIL 27: Crews continue to investigate a fatal house explosion on April 27, 2017 in Firestone, Colorado. Anadarko Petroleum plans to shut down 3,000 wells in northeastern Colorado after the fatal explosion. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

By JOHN AGUILAR | jaguilar@denverpost.com | The Denver Post PUBLISHED: October 29, 2019 at 10:44 am | UPDATED: October 30, 2019 at 9:42 am

The federal investigation into the 2017 explosion that killed two people and destroyed a home in Firestone determined the likely cause was a natural gas leak through a pipeline that had been severed during construction of the home two years earlier.

The newly released report from the National Transportation Safety Board also blames the government of Firestone for allowing development on former oil and gas fields without the full knowledge of where pipelines remained buried underground.

“Contributing to the accident was the approval by local authorities to allow occupied structures to be built on land adjacent to or previously part of oil and gas production fields without complete documentation from the operator, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, on the location and status of its gathering system pipelines,” the investigators wrote.

The April 17, 2017, blast killed Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin and left Erin Martinez, Mark’s wife and Irwin’s sister, badly burned. Mark Martinez and Irwin were replacing a hot water heater in the Weld County home’s basement at the time.

Fire investigators later found a 1-inch diameter black plastic pipeline running from an Anadarko well near the house that had been cut when a tank battery was moved before the Oak Meadows subdivision was built. That pipeline leaked the gas from a point 6 feet from the southeast corner of the home at 6312 Twilight Ave. Investigators said they found the gas valve at the Anadarko well in the “on” position.

The report states that a previous owner of the well, Patina Oil and Gas Corp., had recorded the flowlines — pipes that connect wells to surrounding equipment — as being properly abandoned in 1999. But state regulatory records, the report said, “showed this to be incorrect.”

Anadarko acquired the well in 2013 and two years later temporarily shut it in. “However, the well was not plugged and no pipelines were abandoned,” according to the NTSB.

In the wake of the explosion, Colorado leaders promised they would do all they could to prevent a similar tragedy, including pledging a comprehensive public map of pipelines in the state. Thirty months later, as The Denver Post reported Sunday, that still hasn’t happened.

The NTSB completed its report Oct. 18. It did not include any recommendations or directives for homebuilders, local government officials or oil and gas operators relating to the tragedy.

“Know what you’re building on”

On Tuesday, Erin Martinez harshly criticized the NTSB’s report for “its brevity and lack of any recommendations whatsoever to protect public safety and prevent further tragedy.”

“After all this time, it’s shocking to me that the NTSB gives neither me nor the public anything that we didn’t know prior to the investigation,” she wrote in a statement. “Whoever authored this document could have released it a short time after my home exploded. It’s difficult to understand why it took two-and-a-half years to write seven pages that provide no concrete recommendations to prevent another tragedy.”

Martinez said she would turn her attention to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s rewriting of its rules on energy extraction in the state. And she said she would “continue to serve the memory of both Mark and Joey in creating a safer Colorado and ensure that no other family will have to live through what my family experienced.”

Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, said cities and towns can only make decisions on the prospective location of new homes based on information they have or that which is available to them. Given that a previous oil and gas company had listed the flowlines near the Martinez home as properly abandoned, Firestone officials didn’t have reason to suspect there might be a problem.

“I don’t think the municipality could compel anything out of the operator that wasn’t available from the COGCC,” he said. “Information is key here — there wasn’t complete documentation.”

A.J. Krieger, Firestone’s town manager, said late Tuesday that the fast-growing town 30 miles north of Denver is in the middle of updating its land-use development code, “which will include enhanced requirements for regulating oil and gas activity.”

“These more stringent regulations will not just focus on siting and pre-development activities, but also on the post-production life cycle and inspections,” he said.

Krieger said Firestone, which is located in the southwest corner of Weld County, has recently “moved toward requiring removal of abandoned subgrade infrastructure, including the types of lines cited in the NTSB report.”

Martinez, in an interview with The Post on Tuesday, thinks local governments should be more proactive in assuring the safety of a site before permitting homes to be built there.

“Before you move forward with development plans, you should know what you’re building on,” she said. “We can’t hide behind the fact that ‘we were told this.’ ”

That means towns should hire inspectors who can ascertain the underground safety of a prospective neighborhood development before allowing the earthmovers to come in, she said. And she questioned why the state setback for new wells from occupied buildings that oil and gas companies must comply with don’t apply to developers who build near existing wells.

She noted that her home was built less than 200 feet from the well that leaked gas into her basement — yet state rules prohibit energy companies from drilling new wells within 500 feet of an existing home.

“It should be the same setback applied to all of it,” Martinez said.

Mapping flowlines

A spokeswoman for Occidental Petroleum Corp., which acquired Anadarko in August, said the company takes the NTSB’s findings “very seriously.”

“We are mindful of the events of April 17, 2017, every day, and our thoughts continue to be with the families, friends and communities affected by this tragedy,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Brice. “… as part of our commitment to safety, we continually review our processes and procedures.”

After the explosion, Brice said Anadarko shut-in and inspected more than 3,000 vertical wells in and around Weld County, permanently disconnected and used cement to plug approximately 3,600 one-inch return lines, and provided more than 750 free methane detectors to area residents.

Colorado officials have set a deadline of Thursday for oil and gas operators to provide start-point and end-point coordinates — but not full maps — for flowlines. The COGCC has said flowlines span at least 6,522 miles in the state, based on data submitted before Thursday’s deadline.

State officials estimated that a broad unregulated class of pipelines called “gathering lines” — which collect oil and gas from initial storage sites and carry it toward interstate transmission lines — spans tens of thousands of miles. They couldn’t be more precise because they lack location information from oil and gas companies.

On Tuesday, COGCC spokeswoman Megan Castle said as part of the state’s flowline rulemakings, it is proposing the creation of a map of flowlines for the public while at the same time addressing public safety concerns. The agency also will place emphasis on removing old flowlines rather than presuming they are safely abandoned in place, she said.