I’m always looking for ways to keep up to date on pipeline issues. In the case of the Emergency Order that currently has the Mariner East 1 pipeline shut down, I realized there might be a way to get updates automatically. (Mariner East 1 is the old oil pipeline that Sunoco converted to carry volatile gases to Marcus Hook. It has been in operation, sending ethane exports to Europe since March of 2016. The Dragonpipe—Mariner East 2— is an additional pair of much larger pipes, following almost the same route and intended for the same purpose.)
I had heard that by becoming an intervenor I would automatically be informed of every step and receive every document in the proceedings. That was exactly what I was after. But I didn’t really know how to get intervenor status.
In preparation, I reviewed the relevant section of Pennsylvania code. Then, I drafted a letter that I thought would satisfy the requirements for intervention stated in the code:
- the reason I consider myself eligible (I live in the evacuation area and I write a pipeline blog),
- the facts that confirm my interest (my street address and the URL of my blog), and
- my position regarding the issue (I think the issue of pipeline explosion risk hasn’t been properly addressed).
I was in Harrisburg on Monday anyway, so I went to the offices of the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and asked how to become an intervenor.
The first person I talked to thought the Emergency Order might be a special case, and I might not be able to intervene. But she called in another person, a friendly gentleman who gave the matter some thought and said he needed to go and consult a third person. He returned in a few minutes with the following information. (I may not have this exactly right, so check with the PUC before you take this as gospel.)
Two ways to file. He told me there were two ways I could do what I had in mind: “petition to be an intervenor” (which is what I thought I wanted to do) or “file an official protest” (which I had never heard of and which is apparently little used). The difficulty with going the “petition” route is that you have to inform all parties to the proceedings of your intent, and you have to provide evidence that they have been informed. (This requirement is in paragraph 5.75 (a) of the code, and I admit it had me worried when I read through it.) If I actually had to do that, it would mean first collecting contact information for the parties from the PUC, then sending letters requiring return receipts, then presenting the signed receipts to the PUC. By the time that happened, I figured, the suspension might already be over.
Fortunately, my new friend at the PUC knew of another way: filing an “official protest”. I was able to do this quite simply by writing “OFFICIAL PROTEST” across the top of the petition letter I had prepared. He handed me a red pen, I added those words and handed it back. He stamped it with the official PUC time stamp and I was done. A few hours later, it showed up on the PUC website, where it is listed as “Petition to Intervene—Alexander”. You can see it listed on this page under “Public Documents”, and if you click the link, you can see the scanned letter.
You can do this too. I asked him if anyone could intervene in this way, and he assured me they could. Be sure to make it clear, he said, that you are filing an “official protest” not just a “petition to intervene”.
If you do this, I don’t think your letter needs to be as detailed as mine. I suppose it is possible that someone could challenge your application if it didn’t meet the “petition” requirements, but that seems unlikely.
It should go to:
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
Commonwealth Keystone Building
2nd Floor, Room N201
Harrisburg, PA 17120
There may not be a way to do this via email, but I believe you can fax it in. If you have questions, call the Secretary’s Bureau at 717-772-7777.
If you decide to file, let me know (in the Comments) how it turns out.