It seems there have been drilling fluid spills at dozens of sites, and groundwater-related problems in at least three areas of the state, and almost none of it public until now.

Legal papers filed today by three groups (the Clean Air Council, the Mountain Watershed Association, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network) reveal the outrageous scale of the environmental problems caused by horizontal directional drilling (HDD) by Sunoco/ETP in connection with the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2).

The three organizations are petitioning the Environmental Hearing Board of the PA Department of Environmental Resources (DEP) to stop all HDD work until the widespread problems are reviewed.

As the groups’ press release states, “Sunoco’s drilling has had far more problems than the public has been told about. We have documentation of over 61 spills of drilling fluid across the state, an admission from DEP that wells that have been jeopardized in Blair and Westmoreland Counties, and of course, Chester County, and no indication that drilling has slowed or that DEP is doing anything to protect us.”

I have spent the evening reading the petition (it’s what the lawyers call a “Petition of Supersedeas”) and scanning its 18 attachments (which probably total more than 2,000 pages). I am appalled.

What’s in the documents? Let me start by saying that I’m no lawyer, and so my opinion on these matters should be discounted accordingly. But I would like to point you to some of the key information revealed by these documents so that you can read it for yourself.

All the information in the petition leads to the conclusion that the HDD activity must be stopped. The petition makes the case that “[the three organizations] establish herein that the horizontal directional drilling has caused and will cause impairment and destruction of water supplies and widespread pollution into waters of the Commonwealth,” and “…while Sunoco will likely claim economic damage and harm to the public, those claims are due to its own actions, do not outweigh the harm to the public…” Hence, the drilling must stop, at least until the DEP can be certain that environmental damage will be minimized.

The full text of the petition (which is the only one of the documents that you may want to read in full) is here . It is 31 pages long. It lays out the arguments for stopping drilling, reviews the nature of the legal request (called a “Petition of Supersedeas”), the circumstances under which such a petition is granted, and the reasons why the current situation qualifies.

There are 18 “Exhibits” (attachments). There is something of interest in almost every one of them, but here are a few I found particularly enlightening.

Exhibit C:  This is Sunoco’s water supply assessment document. Sunoco claimed to have identified all wells within 150 feet of its HDD paths, but clearly didn’t.

Exhibit D: This internal email, obtained through discovery, shows that the DEP already knew in January that contamination of wells by Mariner East 2 “has the potential to really blow up”. However, the DEP took no action.

Exhibit E: Sunoco’s “Erosion and Sediment” (E&S) plans, as approved by the DEP, required landowners be invited to pre-construction meetings. After the DEP issued Sunoco’s permits, Sunoco replaced the E&S plans with new versions from which the requirement for meetings had been removed.

Exhibit F: Compiled list of spills. There were 61 spills between late April and mid-June. But DEP has stopped issuing notices of violation since May 17, in spite of many spills since. There were 10 or more spills just in and around Loyalhanna Lake.

Exhibit G: July 14 deposition of Ann Roda, Director of DEP’s Office of Program Integration, about many topics, including various drilling fluid spills and how they are handled; also about drilling-related water supply problems in Westmoreland County (near Pittsburgh), Blair County (near Altoona), and Chester County (near Philadelphia). There have been dozens of spills, but only Chester County water problems are public information. (107 pages, including attachments)

Hiding the truth. Reading these documents, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the DEP & Sunoco/ETP, working together, have intentionally sought to prevent the public from knowing about the scope of damage that HDD is doing to our state.  This deception must stop. This state belongs to its citizens, not to the DEP and certainly not to Sunoco. If the people at the DEP aren’t willing to work on our behalf, they need to go.

Update on July 25: Petition granted! Sunoco must stop all horizontal drilling until at least August 7.