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Back in December, the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (BI&E), which is a department of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, filed a formal complaint against Sunoco concerning the Dragonpipe (the Mariner East pipeline system). This specific complaint had to do with failures of maintenance that led to corrosion and ultimately leakage from Mariner East 1 near Morgantown, PA. (For details on this complaint, see “Sunoco sat by while ME1 rusted”.)

Now, in a letter to the secretary of the PUC, lawyers for Sunoco and for BI&E are asking that they be given 30 days “to allow the parties to prepare and file a settlement agreement.” The letter says that a settlement-in-principle has already been reached, with only the details yet to be determined.

Once the agreement has been filed, the letter requests that “any interested persons, including any persons who have filed petitions to intervene in this matter, be provided the opportunity to submit comments … regarding the settlement agreement.” Then, the agreement would be turned over to the five Commissioners for approval.

It seems to me that BI&E has a lot of leverage in this situation, and I hope they make full use of it. In their complaint, the BI&E made five requests. They asked that Sunoco be required to:

  • Conduct a “remaining life study” on ME1 and propose a “retirement date” for it
  • Increase the frequency of in-line (“pig”) inspections to a minimum of once a year “on all bare steel and poorly coated pipelines”
  • Revise corrosion control procedures to meet federal guidelines
  • Develop procedures to “determine the adequacy of cathodic protection” (the technology involving a small electric current that is supposed to keep corrosion from occurring)
  • Implement the new and revised procedures within one year. “If the results indicate [possible corrosion, then Sunoco] shall replace the impacted sections” of the pipeline.

I believe that the settlement agreement should include all of these as requirements, with aggressive timelines. In particular, I think the first request (to set a retirement date) and the final request (to replace pipe where there is an indication of corrosion) should be forcefully pursued. These go to the heart of the safety issues associated with using a leaky, 80-year-old pipeline to transport highly-volatile liquids at pressures far higher than it was designed for. Using pipe like that anywhere is dangerous; to do so in a densely-populated suburban area is risking a catastrophe.