Thomas Hogan, the Chester County District Attorney, announced today (December 18, 2018) that his office is starting a criminal investigation of Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco Logistics Partners, and “related corporate entities”—the organizations behind the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system).

The press release from the DA’s office says that “potential charges include causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, environmental crimes, and corrupt organizations. Such offenses could include criminal charges directly against the individual employees involved, from workers on the pipelines through corporate officers.”

A live news conference at 3pm didn’t provide much additional information, but Hogan made it clear in response to a question that anyone, including state officials, could be prosecuted if they were found to have committed crimes. He explained that Pennsylvania’s laws regarding corporate malfeasance are relatively weak, so (although he will certainly go after the corporations), he sees a need to investigate and charge individuals at all levels who are found to have been involved with criminal activity. The most important goal of the investigation, he said, is to put Sunoco on notice that they have to do this project safely, and they will be held to account.

It is not clear why the investigation is being launched just now. In the press release, Hogan cites a litany of problems over the past two years, plus the Beaver County pipeline explosion in September, as well as a recent visit to Lisa Drive (where sinkholes caused the PUC to halt the use of ME1 last winter).

In the press briefing, Hogan acknowledged that he has no jurisdiction in the Beaver County explosion situation, but he wants to know if the same issues that led to that event are occurring in Chester County.

The DA’s office has sent a letter to ETP’s corporate offices in Dallas, warning them not to destroy any documents or electronic records that might relate to the Mariner East project. They are to preserve anything containing or related to the following topics and keywords: Mariner East, ME1, ME2, ME2X, ME3, pipeline, sinkhole, geological, IR, inadvertent return, Chester County, West Whiteland, Uwchlan, risk assessment, risk analysis, HDD, horizontal directional drilling (or drill), Amtrak, site specific individual risk, and societal risk.

The initial document request provides an idea of where the DA’s office plans to start. They want the following documents be turned over no later than January 4:

“1. All non-privileged communications, reports, and other documents regarding sinkholes or other geological anomalies on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland…

2. All non-privileged communications, reports, and other documents regarding water contamination in Chester County…. Including any and all documents pertaining to inadvertent returns, risk assessment, and the obtaining of drilling permits, and

3. All non-privileged communications, reports, and other documents regarding an explosion in Beaver County in September 2018 involving a pipeline owned or operated by Energy Transfer LP or any of its subsidiary entities….”

Throughout the documents, the Chester DA’s office refers to “natural gas pipelines” rather than “natural gas liquids pipelines”, which suggests they are just getting up to speed on this topic. These terms are not synonymous.

Up to now, we have had limited help from our state regulators (PUC and DEP) in dealing with the issues surrounding the Dragonpipe, and our governor has been no help at all. I’m glad to see the criminal justice system get involved, and I hope their investigation will show how high up the corporate chain the cavalier attitude toward safety extends. My sense is that it may extend to the very top.

The press release, followed by the document request to Sunoco, can be found here.