HARRISBURG >> State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19th Dist., filed a formal legal complaint and a petition for interim emergency relief with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to prohibit construction of the Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline in West Whiteland Township.
Since Pennsylvania lacks any regulation on the placement of intrastate pipelines, Dinniman said he was employing a rarely used quasi-legal process through the PUC to bring relief to residents in the pipelines’ path and establish a precedent regarding the commission’s jurisdiction over the placement and safety of hazardous materials pipelines.
Dinniman said the action was taken because the geophysical terrain, including limestone, and the pipeline’s pathway in close proximity to homes is a hazard.
“This an innovative way we can utilize the PUC process to protect the public from potentially dangerous pipeline construction projects, like Sunoco’s,” he said. “The complaint centers on West Whiteland because that is where the PUC ordered an emergency stop to Mariner East 2 construction, as well as Mariner East 1 operations, earlier this spring.
“However, if successful, we expect it to have ramifications on the entire pipeline process in the Commonwealth,” Dinniman said.
The action, if successful, might have lasting implications on Chester County and pipelines statewide. The 350-mile-long pipeline crosses the entire state, including Berks, Chester and Delaware counties.
Sunoco spokesperson Lisa Dillinger responded with the following statement on Friday: “We strongly disagree with Senator Dinniman’s claims which are clearly founded on misinformation. ME2 and ME2X are critical public utility infrastructure for NGLs that are badly needed and this effort to stop construction would have a significant adverse impact on thousands of workers all across Pennsylvania including the senator’s district, the energy industry, and the economy of the Commonwealth.”
Due to the appearance of sinkholes on Lisa Drive, all shipments on the Mariner East 1 pipeline were shut down last month and construction was halted in East Whiteland on the Mariner East 2 pipeline. The Mariner East 1 pipeline runs 350 miles from Marcellus shale deposits in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the former Sunoco Refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X pipelines will share much of the same 1930s right of way with the Mariner East 1 pipeline.
Both Dinniman’s complaint and a petition for interim emergency relief were filed with the PUC Wednesday by Mark Freed of Curtin and Heefner LLP. Freed’s fee will be paid by the Democratic Caucus of the Senate. No staff attorney, with full knowledge of the PUC, was capable of arguing the action.
The four-count complaint, Dinniman v. Sunoco Pipeline, L.P., asserts that:
1. Construction of Mariner East 2 is unreasonable, unsafe, inadequate, and insufficient at that location.
2. Sunoco has failed to take reasonable efforts to warn and protect the public from danger.
3. Sunoco has failed to select a pipeline right-of-way so as to avoid areas containing private dwellings and places of public assembly.
4. Mariner East is located within 50 feet of private dwellings despite being less than 48 inches underground.
The complaint calls on the PUC to prohibit “the construction of Mariner East 2 in areas of West Whiteland Township where Mariner East 1 is located, within 50 feet of a private dwelling, industrial building or place of public assembly, and grant such other relief as the commission finds to be just and appropriate.”
Sunoco has 20 days to respond to the complaint.
Since the complaint will take time to work through the legal process, Dinniman also a filed petition for interim emergency relief calling on the PUC to grant an injunction against the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in West Whiteland. Such a process can typically take a full year.
According to the petition, “The route of Mariner East 2 through the complex, soluble, fractured and potentially unstable geology of West Whiteland Township, and its proximity of Mariner East 1 risks a catastrophe to residents and other individuals, homes, schools, water supplies, Amtrak and SEPTA rail lines and other infrastructure.”
Del-Chesco United spokesman Eric Friedman welcomes the senator’s action.
“Sen. Andy Dinniman has again shown leadership by action and deeds, elevating the undisputed public safety concerns associated with Sunoco’s troubled export pipeline,” Friedman said. “This action further demonstrates his determination to protect the health, safety and welfare of Pennsylvanians while Gov. Wolf stands by in reckless indifference to the risks to the most vulnerable residents of our Commonwealth.”
Dinniman, who has been a leading and vocal critic of the pipeline project, said he called on the PUC to consider the risks and potential dangers of the entire project as its impacts continue to threaten his constituents and communities in Chester County.
“I have a moral, ethical, and constitutional duty to stand for the safety of the people of Chester County and the protection of their children and families, as well our environment, drinking water, natural resources, and public infrastructure,” he said. “The Mariner pipelines continue to pose a potential threat to all of the above and more.
“I am asking the PUC to consider all of that – the numerous drilling problems, the risks to safety, the proximity to homes and schools, and the unique and problematic geology of the region – in concluding that these pipelines should not be built here period.
“The bottom line is we continue to make the case against putting these pipelines in an area where we know they shouldn’t be and where it appears that Sunoco may not have done its due diligence. The construction of Mariner East 2 have potentially destabilized the geology of the surrounding area. If they are unsafe, then we have serious concerns and questions about the safe operation of Mariner 1. I am hopeful that given the big picture of the potentially disastrous problems and safety risks at hand, the PUC will agree that these pipelines should not have been permitted in this area.”
The filing comes weeks after a March emergency order by the PUC to suspend operations on Mariner East 1 pipeline after it was exposed at a site in West Whiteland by a sinkhole that apparently developed as a result of Mariner East 2 drilling.
In ordering the suspension, PUC Chair Gladys Brown wrote “that permitting continued flow of hazardous liquids through the Mariner East 1 pipeline without proper steps to ensure the integrity of the pipeline could have catastrophic results impacting the public.”
As a result of that order, Sunoco was required to suspend operations on Mariner East 1, which dates back to the 1930s and is permitted to carry liquid propane, butane, and ethane, and conduct extensive geophysical and seismic tests, analysis, and re-evaluations related to Mariner East 2 horizontal directional drilling activities in West Whiteland.
Those tests are ongoing and in late March, Sunoco paid to relocate several West Whiteland residents as it continues to investigate the geophysical conditions, apparently related to the development of several sinkholes, behind their homes.
In addition, Sunoco has requested to change pipeline construction techniques at two drilling sites in West Whiteland. The company is seeking to switch methods from horizontal directional drilling to conventional bore at one site and from HDD to a combination of conventional bore, HDD, and open trench drilling at another site.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing concerning those proposed changes on Monday, April 30 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at E.N. Peirce Middle School located at 1314 Burke Road in West Chester.
Dinniman said the petition was necessary not only to push for a safe end to the project but also to compel the PUC to take a closer look at pipeline drilling operations in relation to the challenging geographic makeup of the region.
“Sunoco may be conducting the requisite geologic testing, but from our past experience on this project, we already know that tests have not always been reliable in predicting or preventing problems,” Dinniman said. “And given their apparent plans to continue to leap forward into this project with different drilling methods, we deserve a clearer picture of what exactly they’re jumping into.
“After all, when something goes wrong, the residents are the ones left holding the bag.”