Today (March 11, 2019), a group of 14 state representatives and senators sent a letter to Governor Wolf, requesting a shutdown of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) until there are concrete plans to handle an emergency.
Those plans can only be created, the letter says, if Sunoco shares its internal “Emergency Response Plan” with local emergency responders. It has refused to do so. You can read the letter here.
What are local departments and school districts supposed to do? Under Title 35 of the Pennsylvania Statutes (which addresses health and safety), municipalities, counties, and school districts are required to maintain “All Hazard Emergency Response Plans” for the citizens they represent. The letter specifically lists “Chester County’s Emergency Services department and the West Chester Area School District, Rose Tree Media School District, and Downingtown Area School District” as entities that have attempted, unsuccessfully, to get the information necessary to update their plans from Sunoco. As a result, they are out of compliance with Title 35.
Sunoco, for its part, has refused these requests on the basis of “national security”. It cites the Public Utility Confidential Security Information Disclosure Act 156 as the basis for doing so. But Act 156 specifically addresses this problem. It states:
Nothing in this term shall be construed to relieve a public utility from its public notification obligations under other applicable Federal and State laws.
In other words, the disclosure of information required under Title 35 is not subject to restriction by Act 156.
In fact, of the ten pipeline companies operating in Chester County, Sunoco is the only one refusing to share this information. Because of their refusal, the letter states, Sunoco is “risking a catastrophe”—a criminal offense.
Governor Wolf can halt pipeline operations if he wants to. The letter concludes with an appeal to the Governor to intervene:
We are asking you to step in, requesting a moratorium on the operation and transmission of NGL products through the Mariner East pipeline system until such time as the mandated protocols are in place for our local responders and school districts to properly manage an emergency.
Although Wolf has recently become vocal about his support for pipeline safety, it is doubtful that he will actually act to shut the Dragonpipe down. But the public pressure is mounting both on Wolf and on Sunoco to take the safety issue seriously.
The 14 who signed the letter (all from Southeastern PA) are state representatives Barrar, Comitta, Otten, Hennessey, Howard, Krueger, Lawrence, Quinn, Suppey, Schusterman, and Williams; and state senators Dinniman, Kearney, and Muth. If you are represented by one of these people, please let them know how much you appreciate this effort. They need our encouragement!
The necessity of getting good emergency procedures in place is the overt message of this letter. That’s obviously needed. But the troubling, unspoken question behind it is: Can there be an emergency response plan that actually protects the public in the event of a serious leak; or does Sunoco consider the possibility of a catastrophe, potentially with massive loss of life, a cost of doing business?