In a remarkable turn of events, the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (BI&E) of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission filed as an intervenor in the “Safety 7” case which is currently pending before the PUC. That’s the case involving seven residents of Chester and Delaware County who argue that Sunoco, in its work on the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) has not done what it is required to do in developing emergency plans and publicizing them.

According to the BI&E’s intervention filing, Sunoco misconstrued a BI&E letter to say that the 12-inch “bypass” pipeline was “safe”, when in fact the letter didn’t say that at all.

Sunoco’s claim. In one of its filings, Sunoco claimed that “The 12-inch pipeline is safe, as the Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement has acknowledged.” As the basis for this claim, Sunoco cited a letter from Paul Metro (Chief of BI&E’s Safety Division) to the superintendents of three school districts in Chester and Delaware County. The superintendents had written to the PUC to inquire about the safety of the pipeline, and Metro’s letter was in response. However, the Metro letter did not actually say the pipeline was safe, only that it met certain regulations.

Subsequently, Judge Barnes presumably relied on Sunoco’s claim in her denial of the Safety 7 “emergency petition”. In that denial, she wrote: “Further, Sunoco argues that the Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement has acknowledged that the 12-inch pipeline is safe to operate.”

“Not true”, says BI&E. On December 18, BI&E took the unusual step of filing as an intervenor to refute Sunoco’s claim. You can read the text of their filing here. In their rebuttal, the BI&E said, “To the extent that this portion of Sunoco’s argument was given any weight by [Judge] Barnes in reaching her conclusion, or to the extent that the Commission may rely upon this portion [in its upcoming public meeting, we would like to provide a clarification]. A careful review of the Metro letter clearly refutes [Sunoco’s] allegation….”

It goes on to say, ”The purpose of this clarification should also not be construed as a testament that the 12-inch line is unsafe.” Its only purpose, they explain, is to clarify Sunoco’s role as caretaker of the line, and BI&E’s oversight role. BI&E enforces regulations, but it does not declare pipelines “safe” or “unsafe”.

It is refreshing to have a government agency to intervene in public to correct one of Sunoco’s misstatements.