It has been quite a week for news about the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). The week started on a low note for pipeline opponents, when a judge at the Public Utility Commisson (PUC) denied an emergency petition filed by seven local residents to shut down the pipeline, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal of a pipeline-related eminent domain case.
But yesterday (December 13, 2018), new evidence about the dangers of the pipeline came to light: a filing against Sunoco by the PUC’s inspection division accusing it of 15 counts of shoddy work, and an explosion at a plant feeding the pipeline in western Pennsylvania.
PUC inspectors find that shoddy inspection led to a dangerous leak. In a formal complaint filing yesterday (the full document is here), the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (BI&E) reported on its investigation of a leak of ethane and propane from Mariner East 1 near Morgantown, PA, in April of 2017. The gas was discovered bubbling up from the ground by a resident.
The subsequent investigation found that the leak was due to corrosion, and that Sunoco had failed to properly monitor the pipeline for corrosion—not just in that location, but across the entire state. The report clearly implies that Sunoco’s processes were so bad that similar corrosion could be present anywhere along the entire length of ME1. And it clearly indicates that Sunoco should have known about the Morgantown corrosion, and should have fixed the problem before the leak occurred.
In other words, there are 300 miles of leaks waiting to happen, and Sunoco isn’t paying attention.
The report proposes a fine of $225,000 (a trivial amount in the context) and requires Sunoco to improve its monitoring practices within a year (also insufficient, in my opinion). It also requires Sunoco to conduct a “remaining life study” to specify how soon the ME1 pipeline (built in the 1930s) needs to be retired. That implies that the pipe is at or near the end of its useful life.
I plan to publish a blog post within the next few days with additional details from this important document.
Explosion in Washington County. Four workers were hospitalized after being injured in an explosion at the MarkWest gas processing plant near Houston, in Washington County, PA. We don’t know many details yet about that explosion. It is possible that the explosion and resulting fire could have an impact on the Dragonpipe, since that plant is a major processing hub for NGLs destined for the pipeline.