Yes, I know. We just went through two public comment periods for the Lincoln Highway/Chester County library/Swedesford Road planned construction site. And we did the same thing for the Route 100/N. Pottstown Pike plan. But now we have one more shot at it, and let’s take advantage of it. Instructions for commenting are at the bottom of this post.

 What is this new comment period? The recent comments that many of us recently filed were in response to the reports Sunoco had to submit as part of its Aug. 9, 2017 settlement agreement with Clean Air Council and two other plaintiffs.

But when major modifications are made to the plans for the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2 pipeline), there is another opportunity for comments. The DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) must publish an announcement of the major modification, and the associated month-long comment period, in the Pennsylvania Bulletin (the official state publication for such notices). As Kathryn Urbanowicz of Clean Air Council explained to me, it isn’t clear exactly what a “major modification” is, but changing from HDD (horizontal directional drilling) to trenching is an obvious example. Permits for both of these sites were originally issued on the basis of HDD, and Sunoco’s new plans call for trenching, conventional boring, and a new “FlexBor” technique, so that’s a major modification.

As a result, we now have a new period lasting until March 12 to file comments with the DEP about these two stretches of the Dragonpipe. You can find the official notification in the online version of the Pennsylvania Bulletin here. Search the web page for “Mariner”. You will find two notifications about “Erosion and Sediment Control Permit Modification”. The “permits” in this case are the so-called “Chapter 102” permits that the DEP issues for pipeline work that impacts the bodies of water and aquifers.

One comment or two? I know some people are considering combining their comments about both sites into a single comment, but I would recommend submitting two comments, even if the content is similar (or identical). The reason is that the DEP has to consider each of these two permits as a separate issue. As they consider each in turn, you want to make sure they consider your comments in both cases. The only way to be certain they do that is to comment on each one separately.

Is there anything in particular to say in comments? There is a lot to say. You may want to skim through other people’s comments from previous rounds to review some of what was said then. You’ll find links to them on the “HDD Reevaluation Reports” page of the DEP website.

Having looked through them myself, I have summarized some of the key issues below. Note that two of the points below apply only to the Swedesford Road/Library site.

The following observations apply to both sites.

Alternative routes: Sunoco was required (by the August 9 agreement) to consider alternative routes to the one initially proposed, but they never have. In every report they file, they claim that there is “no practicable alternative” but they give no indication of actually considering any alternatives. There is open land to the northeast of Exton that would make a better route, with far less damage to the natural environment and far less risk to people. Sunoco needs to prove why its proposed route is preferable.

Notification of landowners and danger to wells: The August 9 agreement also required Sunoco to provide notice of their plans to property owners within 450 of the pipeline alignment.  Sunoco arbitrarily decided it didn’t need to do this because, in its opinion, its new approach eliminated the risk to wells. But there is no evidence that the new approach won’t hurt wells, and Sunoco has no way of even knowing where some of the wells are if it doesn’t contact the local landowners. The requirement to contact all owners of land within 450 feet of the alignment needs to be enforced.

Geotechnical analysis: Sunoco claims that existing geophysical studies and its few test borings in the area are sufficient to be confident that sinkholes and other karst-related problems are unlikely. But Sunoco’s own geologists, in the report attached to the plans, felt that more testing was needed to better understand the karst geology. Subsidence (sinking of the land) is a very real possibility in this karst landscape, and bending of the pipeline from subsidence could lead to disaster. Sunoco’s construction has already resulted in sinkholes.

The karst landscape also means that water supplies in this area tend to be interconnected, and that increases the risk of contamination and other disruption.

The DEP must insist that Sunoco do more geotechnical surveying to understand what is required to avoid these problems.

The following two items relate only to the Swedesford Road/County Library site.

Unnecessary tree removal and ground disturbance: Why has Sunoco expanded its construction workspace at the south end of Meadowbrook Manor Park and the area immediately south of the library? Both contain wetlands, mature trees, and areas prone to flooding. These areas should not be allowed to be used unless Sunoco can provide strong justification (which they have not done so far).

And Sunoco has not explained whether the damming and diversion of Valley Creek, part of its initial plan, is part of the new plan. If it is, how will Sunoco avoid aggravating the extreme flooding which has affected the Meadowbrook Manor area in the past when heavy rains occur? The company needs to provide a credible plan for dealing with this.

Concerns related to “FlexBor” technology: The FlexBor technology, which Sunoco plans to use, is a new approach to reaming after a pilot hole is created. The first public demonstration apparently occurred in May of 2016. Sunoco states that the FlexBor reaming system is “specifically designed to minimize the risk of [frac-outs] during the reaming phase.” If Sunoco has real-world evidence that it actually does minimize that risk, the company should be required to provide it. This technology is so new that there is likely to be very little actual field experience involving it.

Sunoco states that, before boring, a pilot hole will be created using a 7-inch diameter percussion hammer. But how will Sunoco ensure that this hammering process does not inadvertently damage pipes already in the easement? How will damage to Valley Creek be avoided, given that the pipeline is supposed to pass only a few feet below it? Sunoco needs to explain how these problems will be avoided.

The following item relates to both sites, but the DEP may decide it does not fall under its “environmental” mission. But it’s worth including, especially if you will be copying the governor and your state representatives (which I hope you will).

Risk of human injury or death: While the DEP’s primary mission is the preservation of the environment, it must also take seriously the risk that this pipeline poses to nearby residents if it becomes operational. A clean environment is essential to human health, and that is certainly critical; but its importance is secondary when human life itself is at stake. The DEP needs to make sure that this pipeline, if it is built, is constructed in a manner and in a location that minimizes its risk to people.

How to submit your comments. The DEP is soliciting public comments on Sunoco’s plans for these two locations until March 12. Let them know what you think, at this address:

ra-eppipelines@pa.gov

Tell the DEP about the problems you see with these plans. Feel free to use the ideas listed above, but it is most effective if you put it in your own words.

To have greatest effect, it is important to send copies of your DEP comments to several other places:

  • To the Clean Air Council, who needs your comments as ammunition in its fight against the pipeline. Send copies to Kathryn Urbanowicz (kurbanowicz@cleanair.org)
  • To Governor Wolf, who has the power to stop this pipeline if he wants to. You can use this contact form: https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/
  • Send copies of your comments to your state senator and representative too. They can help put pressure on the DEP, the PUC, and the governor.