On April 25, State Senator Andy Dinniman filed two remarkable documents with the Public Utility Commission (PUC). One is a formal “Notice to Defend” (referred to as the “Complaint”) and the other is a “Petition for Interim Emergency Relief”. Both documents call for the PUC to “issue an Order prohibiting the construction of ME2 and ME2X in West Whiteland, and grant such other relief as the Commission finds to be just and appropriate.” The documents largely overlap in their content, but Sunoco has 20 days to respond to the Complaint, whereas the Petition asks for an immediate order. The points I will discuss here apply to both documents.
Links to both documents are contained in Dinniman’s press release.
Dinniman’s filings raise four key points, which are listed as follows:
- Construction of ME2 and ME2X is unreasonable, unsafe, inadequate, and insufficient at that location.
- Sunoco has failed to take reasonable efforts to warn and protect the public from danger.
- Sunoco has failed to select a pipeline right-of-way so as to avoid areas containing private dwellings and places of public assembly.
- Mariner East 1 (ME1) is located within 50 feet of private dwellings despite being less than 48 inches underground.
Each of these points is documented in detail.
These filings are remarkable not only because of what they ask for, but also because of the information they contain. In particular, the list of federal pipeline rules that the PUC has incorporated into its own regulations is an important resource. I haven’t seen anything comparable elsewhere. (More on that below.)
This petition is different from the previous “Petition for Emergency Relief” in March. That one was initiated by the PUC’s own inspectors, and it resulted in the shutdown of the 8-inch Mariner East I, which was already in operation. (That shutdown continues to this day, with no indication of ending soon.) Dinniman’s petition addresses only the new construction of the ME2 and ME2x in West Whiteland Township. A crucial stretch of that construction runs through the heart of Exton. That stretch, extending less than two miles from Lisa Drive on the south to Shoen Road on the north, exemplifies almost everything that is wrong with this project.
In these documents, Dinniman lists the full litany of problems Sunoco’s work has caused in West Whiteland so far. The emphasis is in four areas: the problems posed by the karst geology of the area, the issues surrounding HDD in West Whiteland (damaged wells, frac-outs, and sinkholes), the dangers posed by the NGLs carried by ME1, and Sunoco’s many failures to follow the rules. Readers of this blog will find most of this material depressingly familiar.
The list of Sunoco’s regulatory failures is particularly thorough. Not only are there the DEP “Notices of Violation” and other violations that the DEP has publicized in its two temporary shut-down orders, but there are many violations of Pennsylvania code, particularly regulations of the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that are incorporated by reference into the regulations of Pennsylvania’s PUC.
The rules derived from PHMSA. I had not previously encountered such a thorough list of the PHMSA rules that are incorporated into the PUC’s regulations, and reading through them made me realize how far out of line Sunoco has strayed.
In particular, the PUC’s PHMSA-derived rules state that the pipeline operator must:
- “…use every reasonable effort to properly warn and protect the public from danger…” (Sunoco has failed to do this)
- “…develop a written integrity management program that addresses the risks on each segment of the pipeline.” (Sunoco claims it has done this, but the public has never seen it.)
- “…take measures to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a pipeline failure that could affect a high consequence [i.e. densely-populated] area.” (Sunoco doesn’t seem to have taken the required steps.)
In addition, the PUC’s PHMSA-derived regulations require that the “pipeline right-of-way must be selected to avoid, as far as practicable, areas containing private dwellings, industrial buildings, and places of public assembly.” Sunoco is clearly in violation of this requirement.
Another PUC PHMSA-derived regulation requires pipelines be at least 3 feet underground (or 4 feet, if they are within 50 feet of a private dwelling, industrial building, or place of public assembly). There are apparently places in West Whiteland where ME1 is less than 2 feet underground.
West Whiteland is by no means the only place where Sunoco has flouted these rules. I hope other municipalities will take notice and petition the PUC in the same way. Sunoco behaves as if it is above the law. That needs to change, and the PUC is the agency in the best position to see that it does.
Please attend Monday’s hearing. On another front, a different agency, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is holding a hearing next Monday (April 30), starting at 6:30, at the Pierce Middle School , 1314 Burke Road, West Chester. This hearing will also be about Mariner East construction in Exton, but whereas Dinniman is petitioning the PUC about pipeline safety, the DEP hearing will focus primarily on the environmental issues.
Sunoco wants to change its construction method through Exton to open trench; and in order to proceed, it needs the DEP to approve changes to two of its construction permits. This hearing will help determine whether the DEP gives Sunoco the approval it needs. This is a chance for those of us who are concerned about the environmental and safety impacts of the pipeline to make our voices heard. We need a good turnout to show that the public is serious about this issue. I hope to see you there!