Sunoco will say whatever suits them in a given situation. By refusing to give in to Sunoco’s evasive tactics, Ginny Kerslake eventually forced them to admit they had lied to PHMSA about their safety testing. That’s what this blog post is about.
As regular readers know, Sunoco has a plan to bypass the uncompleted sections of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2 pipeline) by using a stretch of old 12-inch pipe to carry dangerous, highly-volatile NGLs. The line has previously only been used for gasoline and fuel oil. I have written about this in the past (see “Sunoco’s 12-inch “bypass” pipeline is their most dangerous idea yet”).
The 12-inch pipeline has a history of leaks, even when carrying low-pressure liquids, and PHMSA (the federal pipeline regulatory agency) has strongly advised against this type of repurposing. Sunoco, however, is plowing ahead with its plans.
In preparation for putting the 12-inch bypass into operation, Sunoco is conducting “hydrostatic testing”. But how much confidence should we have in Sunoco’s tests? The email correspondence in this post, provided to me by Ginny Kerslake, shows that the process is being mishandled and Sunoco is not telling PHMSA the truth about it. It’s clear that there are those at Sunoco who feel no compunction about lying to PHMSA, and they are supervised by others who are letting it happen.
Someone needs to be fired.
I have written in the past about Sunoco’s policies of ignoring regulations and trying to cover up the truth (see “Sunoco’s policy: cover up and ignore violations”) but it has rarely been as blatant as it is in this instance.
This blog consists of email exchanges between Ginny and representatives of PHMSA and of the PUC (the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission). It is a far longer post than most, but I have chosen to publish it in this form so that you can review all the evidence for yourself. I have included a summary (in bold) of each day’s correspondence. You may want to skim through the correspondence, reading only the bold summaries, and consult the full text for the parts you are particularly interested in.
Water appears unexpectedly. The story starts with Ginny’s discovery of water emerging from the ground and flowing over the curb near her home on Shoen Road, north of Exton, PA. Ginny suspected that this was water leaking from the 12-inch pipeline, because she knew that hydrostatic testing was being conducted.
Ginny’s correspondence follows. In most cases, she is writing to representatives of PHMSA (the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) and the PUC (Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission), often with copies to local and state elected officials as well.
September 17: Ginny reports the new water flows on her easement and at other places along the pipeline. There is orange water (which she thinks may be from iron oxidizing bacteria). There is also some strange fluorescent green water, which may be from pressure testing. (In hydrostatic testing, a pipeline is filled with water which is raised to a higher pressure than it will experience in operation. If it can’t hold the pressure, there must be a leak somewhere. Colored water is used to help workers, who patrol the right-of-way on foot, to locate the leak.)
8:18 AM Ginny writes: Over the past several months I have been sending updates to the PUC, DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] and WWT [West Whiteland Township] on the situation on our property at 103 Shoen Rd where water has been flowing and seeping along Mariner East 1 since Sunoco grouted the Mariner East 2 bore hole after the aquifer accident last summer. Sunoco has had the remediation plans for that since last winter but still has to remediate.
This week it appears that new water has emerged just to the east of Mariner East 1 on our property. The ground is soaked and water runs over the curb onto road. There is an orange color and some slime. I have attached video and photo that I took yesterday.
And yesterday while canvassing in Upper Uwchlan, I noticed water flowing from a lawn on Larkins Bridge Dr, Downingtown, onto the sidewalk and along the street to a grate. It was marked with blue flags. The Mariner East easement is nearby, cutting through that neighborhood.
I have similarly seen video this weekend of new water that is flowing out of the ground near the 12” line in Uwchlan Township with that same orange color (iron oxidizing bacteria?) that I witnessed here.
It has been reported that Sunoco has been doing hydrostatic testing of the 12” line this past week. In light of this, I felt it was important to inform you of what I have seen here in case it is related.
Regards, Ginny Marcille-Kerslake
1:20 PM Ginny writes: Update: Elena Bozhko was here from the PUC along with several Sunoco reps. I showed them the situation and explained how it just started the end of last week. They told me the hydrostatic testing was on Wednesday and Thursday which corresponds. One of Sunoco reps said that they put a fluorescent green marker in the water used for testing. I pointed out the fluorescent green in the water here.
2:34 PM Ginny writes: Here are photos. Sunoco Rep suggested it was algae but the water has not been there long. [photos attached]
September 18: The PUC’s Paul Metro responds to Ginny’s report and asks ARM (a Sunoco contractor) to check it out.
9:12PM Paul Metro writes to ARM, Sunoco’s testing contractor, copying Ginny:
Scott, see email chain below. Could ARM check out the stream..thanks
September 19: ARM visits, and responds with a report that reflects sloppy investigating and dubious conclusions.
4:45 PM Scott Wendling (ARM) to Paul Metro (copied to Ginny). The inserted ALL-CAPS comments are Ginny’s response to the ARM observations:
Good afternoon. Here is a summary of the observations made during our inspection today at 103 Shoen Rd. in Exton, PA:
- ARM onsite at 10:00AM – parked in the apartment complex parking lot adjacent to recent pipeline disturbance area.
- No issues observed in the pipeline disturbance area located south of Shoen Rd.
- Walked to property boundary and right-of-way along Shoen Rd. as water was observed flowing from the grass into the roadway of Shoen Rd.
- Subject property (103 Shoen Rd.) is located north of Shoen Rd. and at the bottom of a hillside approximately 100 feet tall (Photo 1).
- ARM spoke to an owner of the property, the husband of Virginia Kerslake.
- The owner mentioned that he wasn’t 100% sure where on the property Virginia took the photo with the green substance that was sent to Paul of PUC but that it was within the general area along the right-of-way for Shoen Rd.
- He point over to two pink stakes on the hillside of his property stating that they indicated the location of the water seeps. MY HUSBAND POINTED TO TWO PINK FLAGS THAT MARK THE LOCATION OF TWO SPRINGS THAT EMERGED LAST SUMMER AFTER BOREHOLE WAS GROUTED. WATER HAS FLOWED INTERMITTENTLY FROM THAT LOCATION SINCE AND HAS CONTINUOUSLY SEEPED FROM GROUND AT BASE OF HILL EVER SINCE.
- No additional information was given but he stated that ARM could walk along their driveway to continue the inspection of this area.
- ARM scanned the following areas: southern portion of the property along the driveway, southern hillside from the house, the right-of-way running east-west along Shoen Rd., a stormwater inlet, and the local stream.
- Right of way
- Water was flowing along the right-of-way in the eastern and downhill direction towards a stormwater management inlet. THIS WATER IS THE RESULT OF SUNOCOS HITTING THE AQUIFER LAST SUMMER AND PLUGGING THE HOLE WITH GROUT.
- No algae or dye (potential sources of the green substance from the photo provided to the PUC by Virginia Kerslake) was observed at the time of inspection. WHEN I RETURNED HOME MIDAFTERNOON TODAY I CHECKED THE AREA AND STILL SEE SOME GREEN. HE MUST NOT HAVE BEEN VERY THOROUGH OR WAS LOOKING IN WRONG AREA
- No odor, sheens, or bubbles were observed at the time of the inspection. I OBSERVED SOME BUBBLES STILL THIS AFTERNOON.
- Grass clippings were observed within the right-of-way (Photo 2) along the entire stretch of the 103 Shoen Rd. property. These grass clippings may be a potential source of the green substance previously observed by the homeowner. THEY ARE NOT. THE GRASS WAS CUT AFTER THE GREEN WAS FIRST OBSERVED. WHEN SUNOCO WAS THERE YESTERDAY MORNING, THEY SAW THE BRIGHT GREEN AND TRIED TO SAY IT WAS ALGAE WHICH IS UNLIKELY SEEING AS THIS WATER HAS APPEARED ONLY A FEW DAYS AGAIN AND THERE IS SOME FLOW.
- The pipeline is marked within the general area of the water seep (Photo 3).
- Water staining observed along the side of the driveway (Photo 4) facing the uphill (north) section of the property, which is an indication that groundwater is seeping in this area due to a high water table. THE WATER TABLE IS NOT HIGH IN THIS AREA. THERE IS SEEPAGE ALONG THAT HILLSIDE FROM WATER RUNNING FROM THE AQUIFER THROUGH THE PLUGGED BORHOLE AND FINDING ITS WAY OVER TOWARD MARINER EAST 1
- No seep was observed in the area of the pink stakes (Photo 5) nor along the hillside at the time of the inspection. THE SEEPAGE IS BELOW THE FLAGS, DOWN BY THE MARINER 1 MARKER
- Paths of water flow were observed in this general area.
- Stormwater Inlet
- Located approximately 250-feet east and downgradient of the approximate location of the water seep.
- Water flow was observed entering this inlet from an abandoned structure (Photo 6) located along the northern hillside.THAT IS A 220+ YEAR OLD SPRING HOUSE AND THE SPRING THAT HAS RUN ALWAYS THROUGH IT
- Local Stream
- Located approximately 400-feet east and downgradient of the approximate location of water seep.
- An area of bubbles, approximately the size of a utility manhole cover, was observed coming from the bottom of the stream located just south of Shoen Rd, which is an indication that groundwater is discharging to the stream, as would be expected in these conditions. NO, THIS IS AN INDICATION THAT THERE IS A VERIZON CONDUIT THAT IS LEAKING AIR AND THEY ARE WAITING TO FIX. THIS WAS REPORTED LAST MONTH BY ME AND AN INSPECTION DONE BY PUC TO DETERMINE THE CAUSE.
- Right of way
In conclusion, a green substance was not observed during the time of inspection and the water observed flowing in the east/downgradient direction seemed to be groundwater seeping from the hillside. On a related note, Nick Kurtz (ARM’s scientist who completed this site inspection today) lives in this area, but away from the HDD. He noticed a similar temporary buildup of green algae in his yard this morning, suggesting the green algae was more wide-spread and not an isolated occurrence at 103 Shoen Road. THIS WATER IS FROM THE AQUIFER SUNOCO HIT WITH THEIR HDD DRILL JUNE 2017. THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN ADMITTED TO BY SUNOCO. THE ADDITIONAL FLOW IS NOT FROM A HIGH WATER TABLE AS IS SUGGESTED HERE BUT IS EITHER INCREASED FLOW FROM THE AQUIFER OR FROM THE HYDROSTATIC TESTING (THOUGH NO DROP IN PRESSURE WAS OBSERVED DURING TESTING)
Let me know if you have any questions or if you need anything else.
September 26: Ginny reports that there has been no response from anyone about the questions raised by ARM’s September 19 report. The water problems continue.
10:39 AM Ginny writes: Good morning. Today’s video of the water situation on Mariner East 1 is at the bottom of this email. The increase in flow since two weeks ago continues, and spills onto Shoen Road. If this continues it could be an ice hazard in the upcoming months.
The green color that appeared with the start of this increased flow and gradually finished has now disappeared.
The ground around the Mariner East 1 continues to be flooded and this extends east toward Pottstown Pike.
To date I have not heard from anyone from WWT. I have not heard from the PUC since Paul Metro sent the ARM geologist’s erroneous field report last Thursday. Ian Woods from PHMSA told me on Monday he was checking on what color dye was used and I have not heard further from him yet.
Something has changed with the hydrogeology here in the aftermath of the hydrostatic testing of the 12” line. In addition there was also the lingering presence of bright green, which has now ebbed, in this water. A Sunoco rep told me last Monday that a green dye was added to the hydrostatic testing water as a marker. When I pointed out the green in the water here he suggested that this was algae, but this water was fresh on the surface, and there was no such color in an adjacent trough with standing water. No one from the PUC or Sunoco took a sample to determine what the bright green color was. (I do have a sample in the fridge).
I feel the evidence points to a strong possibility that the 12” line is leaking somewhere near my property. We know this line has a history of leaks.
In answer to Question #4 in the attached document from PHSA to WWT, PHMSA confirms that the 12″ pipeline that Sunoco proposes to repurpose to transport NGLs in WWT is part of the same pipeline that failed in June 2018, spilling more than 33,000 of gasoline (as reported by Sunoco itself) into Darby Creek, Delaware County. This pipeline is called the 12″ Point Breeze to Montello pipeline.
What PHMSA doesn’t mention is that this same pipeline also leaked hazardous liquids in West Whiteland Township in 1987; in Edgmont Township in 1988; and was discovered leaking yet again in Edgmont Township in 2015. The evidence indicates that the leak that was discovered in Edgmont in 2015 may have been occurring for more than a decade.
None of these accidents were discovered by Sunoco, all of them were reported by the public.
I do not need to tell you what a leak on this 12” line would mean here if HVLs were running through it. In light of that, it is frustrating that my concerns go unanswered.
I hope that I will hear back from each of you on this.
September 27: Still no response. Is anyone paying attention?
12:19 PM Ginny writes: I have not had any response to this from any of you. Please respond so that I know someone is on this and our concerns are not just being ignored.
September 28: Ginny asks for tests to be run again. PHMSA responds that Sunoco confirmed that fluorescent green dye had been used, but that the hydrostatic test resulted “without any issues, no leaks” and that samples were taken and analyzed, with no evidence of dye being found. Ginny insists on seeing the lab reports.
11:51 AM Ginny writes: According to Sunoco in the article this week , they still intend to put this 12” line into operation (as part of ME2) the end of September. I brought this possible leak on my property to attention TWO WEEKS ago. Nothing has been done about yet.
To start with, Sunoco should be required to repeat the hydrostatic test in this area before this is put into operation. They should also be required to inform everyone, include residents of the date of testing (last time they did not) do we can watch for signs of leakage. It also might be a good idea to use a different color dye.
I don’t understand the delay on the part of PUC and PHMSA. I should not have to be so persistent in the face of these concerns for my own family’s safety and public safety.
1:34 PM Ian Woods (PHMSA) writes: Hi Virginia,
I received information from Sunoco’s compliance officer that verified that fluorescent green-yellow dye was utilized for the hydro testing of the 12” line intended for repurpose. I also received information that the hydro test was completed without any issues, no leaks. The compliance officer also informed me that Sunoco was aware of the water and green substance complaint investigation from the 103 Shoen Road location as reported to them by the PAPUC. I was informed that environmental samples were taken and that there was no evidence of the fluorescent green-yellow dye that was utilized for the hydro test. From the pics that you sent, it appears that the green substance could be algae or something organic in nature. The dye utilized for leak detection or line tracing is very, very bright in color.
Thank you again for your patience.
3:54 PM Ginny writes: Ian have you seen those hydrostatic test results and the lab results? If not please do so. I insist on being copied on these results, particularly the lab results.
It is unlikely that the bright green was algae as the water was new and not standing water. It is unlikely that algae would have grown in those couple days. The color also dissipated over time and is not there now, though water is. Furthermore, the hydrogeology there changed in the days of the hydrostatic testing.
This is a matter of my family’s personal safety as well as public safety. I will not take Sunoco on their word alone and I trust that PHMSA, PUC and WWT will also insist on seeing these test results.
I also ask that I please hear a response so that I know this will be followed through with.
September 29: Ginny again requests the lab reports.
9:25 AM Ginny writes: Paul and Ian, do either of you have a copy of the lab report that Sunoco allegedly had done to analyze for dye in samples they took from my property in the past two weeks? If not, do you have any intention of getting that report from them? And will you share that report with me?
Please respond by the end of the day in Monday. If I don’t hear a response by then, I’ll take that as a “no” and further this on my own. Sunoco has reported that they intend to put this 12” line into operation by the end of September so there is no time to waste on this.
October 1: Ginny reminds the regulators that the deadline for a response is near. Sunoco finally admits to PHMSA that they never did the claimed lab tests.
Paul and Ian, sending this again with a reminder that if I don’t get a response to this today I will assume neither of you have seen Sunoco’s lab report on samples they claim to have taken on my property a couple weeks ago.
3:10 PM Ian Woods writes: Hi Virginia,
In trying to confirm the sampling and lab results with Sunoco, I have been informed that they had provided me with incorrect information regarding sampling and lab results.
I misunderstood and then mis-stated information that was passed along to me.
I was told we had an expert go out to the site and concluded there was no dye in the water.
Upon receiving the inquiry last week, I checked with a few personnel who were involved. I misunderstood the sampling part. No sample was taken.
A Professional Geologist was sent to assess the water on the date of the PUC Complaint Field Inspection with SPLP personnel.
A final written report from the PG is pending.”
I apologize for any confusion that this misinformation has caused.
3:31 PM Ginny writes: Thank you for that update Ian. It does not surprise me that Sunoco’s claim was false. It’s unfortunate that it took my persistence to get to the bottom of this. Quite frankly, this is something that PHMSA and/or the PUC should have requested from Sunoco instead of relying on their word alone.
What does PHMSA or the PUC intend to do now? There are indications here on my property that the 12″ pipe may have leaked during hydrostatic testing. I hope that PHMSA or the PUC will be requiring Sunoco to run the test on this section again, perhaps even using a different color dye. I also hope that Sunoco is required to inform us in the days before the test what date the test will be performed (last time we were not notified).
Given the consequence of even a small leak on this pipeline, which has a history of leaks, it is essential that this is investigated further. I am sure our local Supervisors, State Senator and State Representative all copied here would agree. This is a matter of public safety.
October 2: What do PUC and PHMSA plan to do?
1:37 PM Ginny writes: Ian and Paul. just a reminder that I am waiting for response by today as to what PHMSA and/or the PUC intends to do about this.
Since October 2, silence. As I write this, more than a week has elapsed with no word from anyone on whether this apparent leak will be retested or how Sunoco’s false reporting to PHMSA will be dealt with. In any case, we now have proof of what we have often suspected in the past: Sunoco will say whatever suits its business interests, regardless of the underlying facts.
Now that Sunoco has been shown to be lying about its safety testing to PHMSA (which is, after all, the federal pipeline safety agency) it is time for ETP (Sunoco’s parent) to start firing those responsible for the lies. If those people keep their jobs, the message to all ETP employees is that lying to regulators is OK, and the message to the rest of us is to ignore Sunoco’s words and insist on proof.