In a recent blog post, I noted that Sunoco has been indicating a higher-than-expected pressure in its recent engineering drawings one of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East) pipelines, and wondered whether it was deliberate or an error. An article in StateImpact now confirms that it is true: the 16-inch ME 2x is now planned to operate at 2100 psi (pounds per square inch), not 1480 psi. StateImpact contacted Sunoco spokesperson Lisa Dillinger, who “confirmed in an email that the maximum operating pressure of the Mariner East 2x is 2100, but insists that is not a change.” The 16-inch pipeline, she claims, was always intended to operate at 2100 psi.

But her statement is simply not true. It is a change.

Sunoco’s documents show the 16-inch pipeline was designed for 1480 psi. In Sunoco’s permit submissions for pump stations along the Dragonpipe, the pressure is clearly given as 1480 psi. Here, for example, is an engineering calculation for one pumping station (from page 63 of the document posted on the DEP website here ):

pumping station specs at 1480 psi
Engineering calculations submitted by Sunoco to DEP as part of an air permit for a pumping station. The pressure specified is 1480 psi.

The information is certified by Matt Gordon, Sunoco’s project manager, under penalty of law, to be true.

Matt Gordon certification of accuracy 3-23-19
Certification of accuracy for the document cited above.

Similarly, the seals used in Dragonpipe pumping stations are designed for a maximum pressure of 1480 psi. Here is an example of the specifications from the seal manufacturer, provided as part of a Sunoco submission posted here.

seals designed for 1480 psi 3-23-19
Specifications of pumping station seals show that the maximum pressure they are designed for is 1480 psi.

No matter what spokesperson Lisa Dillinger may say, these documents, and many more similar ones, make it clear that 1480 psi was the design pressure for these pipelines. Any claim that they were designed for 2100 psi from the start is not true.

This pressure difference is important for safety. The 42% increase in pressure is not just a technical specification with no practical importance.  It increases the risk associated with the project. Here are some of the ways.

  • The blast zone is larger. The two independent risk assessments (here and here) of the pipeline were done based on the pressure being 1480. The blast zone they showed was bad enough, but the higher pressure makes it even worse.
  • The equipment is more likely to fail. Similarly, the failure rates used as the basis for the risk assessments were based on industry-wide experience. But pressures this high are not normal industry practice. When StateImpact asked pipeline safety expert Richard Kuprewicz about this, he said that “components like valves and flanges may not be adequate for such a high maximum operating pressure.”
  • Leaks are more likely, and more material will escape. Higher pressures mean that components such as seals and pumps, which have some unavoidable leakage, will leak more than normal, and the volume of escaping material will be more than is typical. This adds to explosion risk and to air pollution.
  • This pressure is not normal for pipelines of this type. StateImpact asked Kuprewicz about running these pipelines at 2100 psi, and he responded, “All I can say is federal regulations wouldn’t prevent you from running it at 2100, but you would be out of your mind.”

I would be somewhat reassured if Sunoco could point to even one existing pipeline carrying these highly-volatile liquids that has a record of safe operations at 2100 psi. My assumption is that they cannot.

And what about testing? It’s clear that spokesperson Dillinger was wrong in claiming that the pipeline was designed for 2100 psi. She also claimed that it was tested at up to 2600 psi. Can we believe that?

Laws and regulations are being violated. Sunoco submitted materials in support of its permit applications that specify 1480 psi and then changed the pressure later. StateImpact quotes Clean Air Council attorney Alex Bomstein: “If the pressure were 2100, that would increase emissions, meaning Sunoco’s estimates would be off, meaning DEP’s determination around air permitting of this would also be legally erroneous.”

And the certification of accuracy by Matt Gordon, above, is false. I don’t know what Gordon knew about the plans for 2100 psi when he signed it. But if he did know, I hope someone had the foresight to warn him that the penalties for perjury in Pennsylvania can involve up to 7 years in jail.

I suppose the statements by Lisa Dillinger, the Sunoco spokesperson, wouldn’t constitute perjury. Someone probably told her what to say, and she said it. But assuming she now knows it was a lie, has her opinion of her employer changed? How does she feel about her job?

I am grateful to the team at Clean Air Council for pointing me to the documents linked here.