Anyone with an interest in the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2 pipeline) knows by now that the temporary suspension of construction (which started January 3) came to an end on Thursday, February 8, when an agreement (the “Consent Order and Agreement”—COA) was reached between Sunoco and the DEP. Most people also know that the settlement involved a $12.6 million fine that Sunoco must pay the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Construction of the Dragonpipe can now resume everywhere, except locations where Sunoco still has not completely complied with last summer’s August 9 settlement agreement.
About this post. This blog post is far longer than most. That can’t be helped—it is gleaned from hundreds of pages of documents, including Sunoco’s filings and the details of the terms of the agreement. (You can get to all that material on the Mariner East II Pipeline Portal Page of the DEP’s website.) I am publishing this in the belief that there are some readers who will want to know more about what’s in all those pages.
Will you find this post worth reading? That depends on what you want to learn. This post will provide the answers to these key questions:
- What did the January 3 suspension require Sunoco to do?
- Who gets the $12.6 million?
- What are examples of work in our area, already in progress, that Sunoco was allowed to complete during the suspension period?
- What frac-outs occurred during the construction of the Dragonpipe’s little sibling, ME1? (Did you even know there were ME1 frac-outs?)
- What is the status of HDD work in our area? (Despite Sunoco’s propaganda about “the construction of the pipeline is almost complete” the vast majority of HDD in our area is NOT complete.)
- What is the status of trenching and other construction work?
- What will happen to Sunoco’s previous appeal of the construction suspension?
Now, on to the details.
What did the January 3 Administrative Order require? The January 3 Order that resulted in suspension of work on the Dragonpipe was the culmination of many months of failures by Sunoco to adhere to its permit requirements and other “egregious and willful violations,” as the DEP put it in the Order. Before Sunoco could resume work, it had to fulfill 21 specific requirements.
I have put a list that summarizes all 21 requirements in a separate document, since not everyone will want to read through it. But to give you an idea, here are some of them: report all changes to pipeline installations that deviated from the permit that was originally filed; provide a list of drilling subcontractors, with contact information; provide a report of the factors involved in the many documented permit violations, and the steps to prevent recurrence; provide a list of all activities not yet completed under DEP permits, including HDD and trenching; provide a detailed operations plan to ensure permit conditions will be followed.
What is in the February 8 COA? The DEP considers that all 21 requirements have been “adequately addressed”, and the bulk of the documentation describes what Sunoco either has done or plans to do in addressing them. The COA itself is 102 pages long. The first 20 pages describe the violations leading to the suspension order. Pages 21-29 describe the steps Sunoco has been required to take. You can safely skip all the way to page 29, the “penalties” section, which is where things start to get more interesting.
As a penalty for its violations, Sunoco agrees to pay $12.6 million (the exact amount is $12, 599,326.00, for some unexplained reason) to the DEP. $11.8 million of it goes to the DEP’s Clean Water Fund. The remaining $800,000 goes to the Dams and Encroachments Fund.
In addition, if Sunoco fails to comply “in a timely manner” with procedures it agreed to in this Order, it will be subject to a fine of $5,000 per day, per violation. And the DEP reserves the right to go after Sunoco for any future transgressions.
So what else is there? The Order proper ends on page 34. What follows is a series of “exhibits” that represent a few of the documents that Sunoco has submitted to fulfill the suspension requirements.
In addition, there is a different source for much of the material that Sunoco submitted: the “Summary of Actions and Outcomes Required of DEP’s Administrative Order”. If you are digging into this material yourself, you’ll want get familiar with this Summary. Not only does it list the 21 requirements (well, actually only 20 of them—#13 is missing for some reason), it also contains links to most of the related documents submitted by Sunoco, some of which are not accessible any other way.
You could spend a lot of time slogging through these documents (just ask my wife). Much of the material is frankly boring. But there is some valuable information here that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Here are a handful of highlights.
Exceptions to the work suspension. Sunoco was allowed to apply for exceptions, to complete work that was in process at the time of the suspension. It applied for a number of these, and they are listed starting on page 48 of the COA. A few noteworthy ones in our area (all of which Sunoco was permitted to complete, I believe):
- Completing the “Exton sinkhole” horizontal directional drill (HDD). At the time of the suspension, Sunoco was reaming out this HDD, with “approximately 280 linear feet to complete, and thereafter to perform swabbing and pullback of the pipe through the hole. Completion of this HDD is necessary before [Sunoco] can complete the restoration of an adjacent landowner’s property where subsidence has occurred.”
- Completing the Chester Creek/Gun Club HDD. This is the “Judy Way” HDD that created the Brookhaven frac-out—the very first in our area. It is just south of Linvilla Orchard in Delaware County, and it runs under Chester Creek. The boring operation was complete and the swabbing process had begun when the order to suspend work was issued. Sunoco needed to pull the pipe in order to prevent collapse of the hole.
- Disposal of hydrotesting water. Testing of welded sections of pipe with pressurized water is one of the final tests before installation. Sunoco had millions of gallons of water used for hydrotesting in storage tanks, waiting for disposal. This included 500,000 gallons in Chester and Delaware counties destined for disposal in Marcus Hook. Sunoco requested time for its 9 tanker trucks to transport the water.
Frac-outs from previous ME1 work. The DEP maintains an online table of frac-outs that Sunoco has reported while working on the Dragonpipe. But until now I was not aware of similar data for the work on ME1. (ME1 mostly used existing pipelines and therefore did not require much HDD work.) A table on page 102 of the COA lists all the ME1 sites that had frac-outs (there were 15 of them) and whether there is HDD work for the Dragonpipe at the same location (there is, in 10 cases). Three of these locations are in Upper Uwchlan, Chester County, and one is in Edgmont, Delaware County.
The frac-out information from ME1 is supposed to provide guidance on where to watch out for Dragonpipe frac-outs. It also hints at the likelihood that ME1 construction was far, far more than the simple repurposing of an existing pipe that Sunoco led everyone to believe it would be.
Status of HDD work. All crossings of trout streams, or tributaries to trout streams, are listed in a table in Exhibit 1. Since most of the streams in Delaware County and some in Chester County are tributaries to trout streams, many of our local HDD sites are listed in this table. The table gives the location of the HDD (both by name and in the form of latitude and longitude), so it is fairly easy to find a given HDD site. The table shows when work on each pipe was begun and when it was completed. That lets you see how much work is still to be done. There are entries for 16 HDD sites in Chester County and 22 sites in Delaware County. At only two of these sites (both in Delaware County) has HDD work been completed, so there are at least 36 left to go in these two counties.
Permitted activities not yet completed. An even more comprehensive table appears in Exhibit D, “List of [Permit] 102 and [Permit] 105 Activities That Have Yet to Be Completed or Commenced.” This table lists all “earth disturbance” sites with DEP permits—trenching sites and some other kinds of construction sites, as well as HDD. It presumably does not include sites where work has been completed (although I have not checked that). It lists 70+ sites in Chester County and 20+ in Delaware County. Unfortunately, the sites are not named for the most part, and there is no text description. They are identified by latitude and longitude, which means that a little work with Google Maps is required to figure out exactly where each site is.
And now, Sunoco is withdrawing its appeal. Some readers will remember that, shortly before the COA was announced, Sunoco filed an appeal of the January 3 Order, contending that the DEP had overstepped its jurisdiction in suspending pipeline construction. With the COA, Sunoco is dropping that appeal. The DEP’s press release says that “Pursuant to the COA, Sunoco will withdraw its appeal of the January 3, 2018 order, which had been filed on Friday February 2, 2018.”