Sunoco Faces Backlash After Repeated Pipeline Drilling Spills

by Unicorn Riot – The States

WEST WHITELAND TOWNSHIP, PA – Construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline faces several new obstacles as local authorities and the public respond to a series of drilling accidents.

Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners recently voluntarily stopped construction in certain areas where horizontal directional drilling for the pipeline had contaminated local water sources. After a meeting with township officials on Friday, July 14, the company announced that it was halting drilling operations in Chester County “indefinitely.” The horizontal directional drill (HDD) has been withdrawn from the site at Whiteland West Apartments where it had been active until last week, and has been sitting unused in the parking lot at St Peter and Paul Catholic Church and School.

It is unclear how long drilling in the area will stop, and if construction activities other than drilling are still taking place. Sunoco Logistics reportedly intends to blame Union Pipeline contractors, who had been operating the drill in Chester County, and replace them with workers from Michels Corporation, a pipeline contractor known for its work on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines.

Sunoco admitted puncturing an aquifer in Exton while drilling on June 22, and has offered bottled water and hotel vouchers to over a dozen residents whose water supply either disappeared or was tainted. The incident has been described as an “inadvertent return” – an accidental process in which a chemical slurry of underground drilling lubricants ends up flowing back towards the surface, contaminating any local waterways in its path.

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Contaminated water from a tainted well in West Whiteland Township, PA.

Sunoco has paid to attach several homes to the public water system after their private wells were tainted with drilling slurry containing chemicals. However, problems with the aquifer feeding the public water system have also been reported since drilling began last month. Before residents started reporting contaminated water, the company had ignored requirements to notify downstream residents 72 hours before starting to drill.

Permitting paperwork from February of this year shows both Sunoco and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection were aware that drilling was likely to damage the local aquifer. Despite this knowledge, Sunoco was given regulators’ blessing to drill anyway.

Earlier this month we heard from affected residents in Chester County about how pipeline drilling accidents are impacting their neighborhoods and their lives:

Water contamination from drilling has also been reported in other counties along the route of Mariner East 2. Blair County reported an ‘inadvertent return’ earlier this month. On Monday, July 17, another drilling spill was reported at a Mariner East 2 HDD site in Middletown, PA, in Delaware County:

On Monday July 17th, Middletown Township reported to residents that the township had been made aware of a bentonite spill at Sunoco’s HDD drilling site behind Tunbridge apartments. Middletown Township reported that they had been notified around 4:30pm, and that PADEP had also been notified and was responding to the event. It is reported that the spill reached Chester Creek. – Middletown Coalition for Community Safety

On Tuesday July 18, a Middletown resident posted a video of the drilling spill site to Facebook and noted how contractors’ efforts to contain the spill seemed inadequate.

Sunoco had previously spilled drilling slurry into Chester Creek in Delaware County earlier this year while drilling in Brookhaven on May 10. The Middletown Coalition for Community Safety is demanding that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revoke “prematurely issued water obstruction and encroachment permits” for Mariner East 2 as well as calling for a moratorium on all pipeline construction. State Senator Andy Dinniman, of West Whiteland Township, also alleges that Sunoco used loopholes in DEP regulations to ignore potential impacts private wells when applying for permits.

Additionally, Sunoco is facing legal action from the Chester County township of West Goshen, which seeks an injunction to immediately and indefinitely halt construction on Mariner East 2. West Goshen Township supervisors, who voted unanimously to petition Pennsylvania’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for an emergency order, allege that Sunoco began pipeline construction at an unapproved location without notifying them or asking for their permission. Township officials also say Sunoco pipeline crews ignored local construction and safety regulations, and have repeatedly blocked the driveway to the local fire department with their vehicles.

Several hundred miles west in the Susquehanna Valley in central Pennsylvania, tree-sits at Camp White Pine still block Mariner East 2’s route through Huntingdon County. The property is owned by the Gerhart family, who have refused to allow pipeline work crews onto their property despite repeated rulings against them by local courts on behalf on Sunoco. Huntingdon County judge Georce Zanic recently approved an injunction sought by Sunoco to allow police to arrest the Gerharts (and/or their supporters) on their own property at the pipeline company’s request.

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One of several tree-sit pods at Camp White Pine, on the route of Mariner East 2 in Huntingdon, PA

With drilling paused in Chester County, the blockades at Camp White Pine still in place, and neighborhoods along the route self-organizing to respond to pipeline safety issues, hundreds of miles of Mariner East 2 are still incomplete. Nonetheless, Sunoco Logistics (‘an Energy Transfer company’) claims the pipeline will be operational sometime this year. The line would carry liquified gases such as ethane, butane, and propane from frack fields in Scio, Ohio across Pennsylvania to export terminals at Marcus Hook, where it would then be shipped across the Atlantic to a plastics company in Scotland.

Stay tuned to Unicorn Riot for more updates as we continue to report on this unfolding story.


This article was republished on Love and Rage within Creative Commons licensing guidelines.

Unicorn Riot is a volunteer-operated, horizontally-organized, non-profit media collective. To support the work they do, click here.

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