The state Department of Environmental Protection issued an order suspending the construction permits associated with the Mariner East 2 pipeline until Sunoco Pipeline LP meets the requirements of its order.
According to a news release from the DEP Wednesday, Sunoco must cease all construction activity on the pipeline project, except for maintenance of erosion controls and limited maintenance of horizontal directional drilling equipment.
The Mariner East 2 pipeline project runs through Cumberland County, generally following near the path of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The planned $2.5 billion pipeline will carry propane, butane and ethane from the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation to an export terminal near Philadelphia.
“Until Sunoco can demonstrate that the permit conditions can and will be followed, DEP has no alternative but to suspend the permits,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We are living up to our promise to hold this project accountable to the strong protections in the permits.”
Sunoco is expected to submit a report within 30 days that explains the violations DEP found and noted in its order, as well as the steps Sunoco proposes to ensure those violations will not recur.
“We intend to expeditiously submit these reports, and we are confident that we will be reauthorized to commence work on this project promptly,” said Jeff Shields, spokesman for Sunoco. “We also reiterate our commitment to the highest levels of construction and expertise and our dedication to preserving and protecting the environment in which we conduct our work.”
Shields said that as of a few weeks ago during Sunoco’s last report on construction, mainline pipeline construction is about 91 percent complete, and its horizontal directional drills are more than 62 percent complete.
Some of the terms the DEP highlighted in its order involve addressing the effects the pipeline has on private water wells in Silver Spring Township, identifying all in-progress and upcoming construction activities and submitting a detailed operations plan outlining additional measures and controls to minimize boring fluid on the surface.
According to the DEP’s statement on settlement of suspension of drilling, the DEP reached an agreement with the Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Mountain Watershed Association Inc. on Aug. 9 to resolve the temporary suspension of horizontal directional drilling activity involved in the pipeline project. As part of that agreement, Sunoco made revisions to some of the plans associated with the project.
Under the agreement, Sunoco will notify all landowners and water supply owners within 450 feet of future drilling sites and provide additional opportunities for water testing for those owners. Sunoco will also re-evaluate at least 63 areas where drilling will take place, and those reports will be posted to the DEP website.
Among the issues DEP cited in its Wednesday suspension order were permits in two local areas.
DEP said in its report that it responded to a complaint on Dec. 5 that a stream crossing was installed at Perry Bridge site over Shaeffer Run in Toboyne Township, Perry County, without a permit. The DEP said it discovered an “air bridge” that was installed over an existing bridge that had been deemed unsafe by county inspectors. The DEP said it discovered the bridge was installed on Oct. 28 without the required permit from the department.
The DEP also said that the Cumberland County Conservation District on Dec. 18 conducted an inspection of pipeline construction activities near North Locust Point Road. The conservation district documented that the pipeline construction method was “trenchless construction,” even though the DEP permit was for “open-cut” methodology.
Sunoco also notified the DEP that it had received complaints from two private water supply owners in the vicinity of its horizontal directional drilling site in Silver Spring Township that they had cloudy water — the first complaint had been filed Dec. 15 and the second on Dec. 18, according to DEP’s order.
Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance argued that starting and stopping construction and horizontal directional drilling does greater harm to the environment.
“Every stakeholder involved in this process has the same shared priority: the safe development of critical infrastructure like Mariner East 2,” said Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the alliance, which supports private investments in pipeline and other energy infrastructure developments. “We are acutely aware of how this project affects our communities, as we are of the tremendous economic benefits it promises for Pennsylvania businesses and consumers upon completion. This project remains critically important for our commonwealth. Sunoco and DEP should work expeditiously to resolve this matter so safe construction can resume and this vital project can get back on track.”
Delaware Riverkeeper Network also issued a statement Wednesday arguing the project should have never been approved.
“Today’s order from DEP ultimately represents DEP’s understanding that Sunoco shamelessly broke a number of terms and conditions that Delaware Riverkeeper Network and others helped secure through litigation with the department in a settlement agreement,” said Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “This project was flawed from the start, and it is disgraceful that these flaws have manifested themselves in such a way that the public’s health and environment have been significantly impacted. This order provides further evidence that the project should never have been authorized by DEP in the first place.”
DEP had previously temporarily halted drilling of the Mariner East 2 in July so that Sunoco could make corrective actions in Chester County, which was also in relation to drilling activities and adverse effects to private water supplies from 14 homeowners.