Pipeline construction has become a flashpoint between environmentalists and the energy industry. (Flickr)
By Joseph Otis Minott
By now, Energy Transfer has certainly lost its social license to operate in Pennsylvania. Why is government not pulling Energy Transfer’s actual licenses?
On the evening of Aug. 5, just as families across Chester County were cleaning up their dinner plates, an explosion rocked the quiet neighborhoods around West Chester, sending startled neighbors out of their shaken homes up to a mile and a half away.
When investigators arrived at the scene, they pinpointed the cause: the Mariner East pipeline pumping station in West Goshen Township. The pipeline company, Sunoco Pipeline (now part of Texas conglomerate Energy Transfer) failed to burn off volatile leaking vapors, generating a sort of fuel bomb at the location by busy Boot Road.
Any explosion in a residential area would be cause enough for concern. But this is just one of many recent injuries and insults Pennsylvanians and their health, quality of life, and local ecosystems have sustained from Mariner East.
Energy Transfer’s pipeline project is poorly designed, sloppily built, and inadequately permitted and monitored. A full tally of the damage would be too extensive to list here, but it is well reported in the media and the scores of lawsuits filed against the pipeline company and state regulators.
This all started with what I believe were Energy Transfer’s lies to Pennsylvania regulators about the project being a “public utility” that it would benefit Pennsylvanians. This lie allowed the company to falsely claim the use of eminent domain to seize homeowners’ land against their wills.
It is an open secret that Mariner East is actually intended to ship fracking gases to overseas markets to make plastics.
Meanwhile, land agents lied when they told countless trusting homeowners across Pennsylvania “You’ll never know we’re here,” only for landowners to suffer years of disruption and destruction from construction work.
Mariner East’s erosion and runoff problems have damaged farms and lawns. Its 24-7 drilling operations have prevented people from sleeping in their bedrooms. Energy Transfer also clearly misled the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about the safety of its drilling plans.
Energy Transfer’s lawbreaking is so bad, it drove DEP to declare that “Sunoco’s unlawful conduct demonstrates a lack of ability or intention on the part of Sunoco to comply with the Clean Streams Law, the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, and the permits issued thereunder.”
It is so egregious, a judge at the Public Utility Commission declare that “Sunoco has made deliberate managerial decisions to proceed in what appears to be a rushed manner in an apparent prioritization of profit over the best engineering practices available in our time that might best ensure public safety.”
Construction for Mariner East has caused over 250 spills of drilling fluid, damaged our state’s pristine lakes and streams, contaminated public aquifers, and poisoned private wells, sending residents to the hospital. It has caused swimming-pool-sized sinkholes and forced people from their homes.
Energy Transfer has copied the tactics it used in the struggle over the Dakota Access pipeline by hiring ex-military contractors to engage in surveillance and psychological intimidation of Pennsylvania residents.
And all for what? For a project that does not benefit Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvanians are tired of politicians and bureaucrats coddling pipeline companies so they can profit off of spoiling our landscapes and endangering the safety, health and welfare of our residents. Energy Transfer has done the crime but not the time. No more second chances.
No more excuses. Enough is enough.
That’s why Clean Air Council is calling on Gov. Tom Wolf to halt Mariner now.
Pennsylvania government has the power to shut down the operations of companies that refuse to abide by our laws. It also has the responsibility. Mariner East is the poster child scofflaw corporation. It is past time to put a halt to its abuses.
The explosion in Chester County was certainly not the beginning of the harms Mariner East has caused. We need to make sure it will be the beginning of the end of Mariner East.
Joseph Otis Minott is the executive director and chief counsel of Clean Air Council. He writes from Philadelphia.
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