Spills and safety concerns have slowed, but not halted, construction
By Justin Klugh
A lateral journey across Pennsylvania is not a simple or a brief one, but the natural gas pulled out of the ground in the Marcellus shale and transported through the Mariner East pipeline to Sunoco's Philadelphia distribution facility in Marcus Hook makes it every day.
Sunoco Pipeline LP is now attempting to install a $2.5 billion sequel to the project: the Mariner East 2 extension, which would transport 275,000 barrels of natural-gas liquids a day lengthwise 350 miles across the Keystone state, including a 23.6-mile stretch of Chester County and an 11.4-mile trip through Delaware County. Sunoco had the pipeline aiming for a debut in late winter or early spring of this year. Though the Mariner East 2 extension may not yet have completed its journey, it has already left a trail of concerns across the state.
In a July 19 statement calling for a halt to construction, Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, a Delaware County Democrat, cited a “series of safety issues,” including a 1,500-gallon spill of bentonite drilling fluid in Middletown Township that had leaked into an aquifer and possibly a private well. Such spills had occurred 61 times by late July during the construction process. Sunoco offered hotel rooms, bottled water and additional water supply testing to those affected.
“It is reckless and potentially dangerous to allow construction to continue until steps are taken to protect residents, their property and our water supply from future spills,” Krueger-Braneky said.
In response to the multiple incidents since July 3, Judge Bernard Labuskes Jr. of the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board had ordered work on Mariner East 2 to stop at all 55 locations where horizontal drilling was underway, with an expiration date to the order of Aug. 7. Sunoco reached a settlement with three environmental groups that required the oil company to re-examine geology at drilling sites, inform landowners with water supplies within 450 feet of a drill site 10 days before drilling is to begin, and to file reports with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Work has since resumed.
Continued concerns led to a telephone town hall on Aug. 29, during which Rep. Chris Quinn of Edgmont, state Sen. Tom Killion of Middletown, other state and federal officials including representatives of the Pennsylvania DEP and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as well as a Sunoco spokesperson, addressed questions and concerns from 60 residents. Of particular contention have been the protests of parents of Glenwood Elementary School students in Media, Pa., who have issued complaints about a pipeline valve station being located 650 feet from the school’s playground.
The Pennsylvania DEP has since issued a Notice of Violation to Sunoco of the Aug. 7 agreement, due to an investigation indicating that Sunoco failed to clean up a 50-gallon bentonite fluid spill on Aug. 17 under the Susquehanna River in Dauphin County before continuing to drill on Aug. 24. According to the DEP, “Operations had continued without containment and successful recovery.”