Anti-pipeline activists won a major victory when the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a 24-page “Administrative Order” requiring Sunoco to temporarily stop all work on the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2 pipeline).
The January 3 order from the DEP lays out a long list of violations that Sunoco has committed, and a series of 21 Orders that Sunoco must comply with before Dragonpipe work can resume.
It is an intimidating document, but full of interesting information. The middle section, called “Sites”, constitutes the bulk of the document. It is a chronological list of various problems, mostly associated with horizontal direction drilling (HDD), at various sites up and down the pipeline route.
Readers of this blog will be familiar with many of Sunoco’s transgressions. I have selected some of the lesser-known ones to highlight in this post, and I have added information about the corresponding Orders that Sunoco must adhere to before resuming construction.
I will end with some suggestions about what we all need to do next.
Crossing of trout streams, fisheries, etc. Sunoco has been careless in dealing with the valuable trout streams along the Dragonpipe route. Violations include using HDD at four Berks County trout streams (a tributary of Cacoosing Creek, a Hay Creek tributary, an Allegheny Creek tributary, and Clover Creek) where HDD was not permitted; in some cases, material was released into the stream. There was an additional unauthorized HDD under a trout stream in Blair County. (In addition to these five instances involving trout streams, the document lists several other occurrences of unauthorized HDDs.)
Within 30 days, Sunoco must report on every place where the pipeline crosses a “wild trout stream, stocked and wild trout fishery, stocked trout fishery, and Class A trout fishery” (Order 3). The Order specifies the different types of documentation required, including before/after photos of the site.
Unpermitted methods of trenchless pipeline installation. The DEP seems concerned that Sunoco is using some methods of boring are not on the permitted list. “Within 30 days…Sunoco shall submit a detailed description of any method of trenchless pipeline construction techniques that have been used or will be proposed for use…other than (dry) conventional auger bore and HDD….” (Order 2) Sunoco “…shall submit a report documenting any other unpermitted changes made to the method for installation…. Permitted methods [are trench/open cut, conventional (dry) auger, and HDD.]”
The Order asks for information about the use of what it calls a “flex bore” method. (Order 4) This probably refers to Barbco’s FlexBor which is a new method that combines aspects of HDD with placing the boring machine in a trench (like conventional boring). This method has not been authorized. The DEP’s request for information on its use suggests that Sunoco has been using it.
Violations of the August 9 settlement agreement. In Huntingdon County, the local Conservation District officer noticed a frac-out from the drilling for the 20-inch pipe and reported it to the DEP. Sunoco never reported it, although they are required to report them all. Furthermore, Sunoco then began drilling the pilot hole for the second (16-inch) pipe. The settlement agreement requires Sunoco to file a report before starting work on the second pipe if the first pipe has had a frac-out, but Sunoco failed to do so.
Order 13 is a specific response to the Huntingdon situation: within 10 days, Sunoco must “pull the drill bit and string from the 16-inch line at the Huntingdon HDD Site and abandon the pilot hole.” And in Order 14: “Prior to conducting any further HDD activity at the Huntingdon HDD Site, Sunoco shall submit a reevaluation of the 16-inch line as required by [the settlement agreement] and receive Department approval of that reevaluation.”
More generally, Order 9 requires Sunoco, within 30 days, to submit a “detailed Operations Plan setting forth the additional measures and controls which the permittee and its contractors shall implement to ensure that all permit conditions will be followed at all times.” The plan must be approved by the DEP. It must include measures to minimize frac-outs and water supply impacts. This applies to all work, not just the Huntingdon site.
Use of an unsafe bridge in Perry County. As the result of a complaint, the DEP investigated a stream crossing of Shaeffer Creek (a wild trout stream) in Toboyne Township, Perry County. It was done without a permit. They found that Sunoco had installed an “air bridge” (a method of distributing the weight of heavy equipment) on top of an old bridge that the county bridge inspector had previously declared unsafe.
Within 30 days, Sunoco must “submit as-built drawings [and various analyses] for the air bridge at the Perry Bridge Site.” They must show that they have done the engineering calculations indicating that the bridge could withstand a 100-year flood. If the bridge won’t adequately protect “people, natural resources, and the environment”, Sunoco must remove the air bridge or apply for an emergency permit to do bridge modifications. If they apply for the permit and it is granted, they have 15 days to complete the modifications. (Order 15). Within 60 days, Sunoco must submit a “Water Obstruction and Encroachment permit application” for the air bridge, providing information about any necessary design changes to the bridge. The changes are to be done within 30 days of the approval of the application. (Order 16)
Tightening control. Several of the orders are aimed at putting stricter control on what has been a very loose reporting arrangement. These include submitting, within 30 days:
- a list of all contractors and subcontractors, with their contact information (Order 5)
- a list of all “earth disturbance and water obstruction and encroachment activities currently authorized”, including installation methods and who is responsible at Sunoco (Order 8)
Clean-up during the suspension. Within 10 days, Sunoco must backfill all trenched areas (Order 10); remove drill bits, reamers and/or strings at HDD sites (Order 11); and properly abandon all HDD pilot holes (Order 12). The DEP must approve any exceptions to these orders.
Are they allowed to do that? Under the terms of the order, Sunoco is allowed to do maintenance on its equipment. It must keep up the run-off control and other environmental measures on worksites.
In the cases where drilling equipment is allowed to stay in the hole (exceptions to Order 11, above, when approved by the DEP), Sunoco can rotate the drill string and move it in and out, since that prevents it from getting stuck. They can’t actually drill, however. If you see something that seems to be drilling (and especially if you can feel vibration from drilling), document it. Then, report it to the DEP. If you see trench work, welding, or anything else that looks like it could be “construction”, report it to the DEP. Sunoco has gotten away with far too much, and that needs to stop.
Keep up the momentum! We should celebrate this victory, but remember that it is only temporary and it only addresses environmental damage during construction (not risk of explosion in operation). Don’t forget to respond to the latest flawed Sunoco report (see “Sunoco is about to drill near more wells”) by January 7, and keep the pressure on Governor Wolf for a real risk assessment.