It is interesting to look back at the year just passed and see what people were most interested in (as reflected in the number of people viewing a given blog post). It will come as no surprise that the most popular posts were focused on risk. (Other blog topics, such as regulatory events, legal proceedings, Energy Transfer’s stock and investor calls, etc., got less attention from readers.)
Here, then, are the top 10 blog posts for the year in reverse order, along with my thoughts on what the ranking says about the pipeline fight. (Clicking on the title will take you to the post itself.)
This was one of two comment-soliciting posts that made the top 10. (There were about 15 of those posts in 2019.) This post dealt with pipeline work in the Aston/Brookhaven area of Delaware County. To me, this indicates that there is considerable pipeline opposition in that area, despite the widely-held view to the contrary.
The possibility of problems in the Marsh Creek area in northern Chester County garnered a lot of attention. Many readers turned to this post for help in submitting their DEP comments about pipeline construction in that area. (See also #1.)
This post speaks to Sunoco’s utter disregard for the need to warn the public about pipeline dangers. The company didn’t warn county emergency officials, either. 18 tons of highly-volatile butane were released in Marcus Hook, but apparently a fortunate wind blowing east carried it out over the Delaware River, where it dispersed. The Pennsylvania DEP was ultimately notified, but the public didn’t learn of it until eight months after the fact.
Another butane release at Marcus Hook. This one shut down Route 13 for a time. Local police were informed, but residents and county emergency officials weren’t. If this had drifted into a nearby residential area and ignited, people could have died. That includes the students at the elementary school, which was in session at the time.
A sinkhole opened in the pipeline right-of-way along Baltimore Pike in Delaware County, next to the State Police barracks and across the street from the only access to the Granite Farms retirement community. By the time officials arrived, Sunoco had already filled it in with cement. Was an active pipeline exposed? Will the pipeline be supported, or weighed down, by the cement? We’ll only find out if something really bad happens.
This post described the latest—and worst—of the sinkhole issues at Sleighton Park in Delaware County. Geotechnical testing is still going on in the area, but it’s not clear if Sunoco is really taking this threat to pipeline integrity seriously or is simply going through the motions of complying with regulatory requests. In addition to the pipelines themselves, the structural soundness of both Valley Road and Forge Road has been brought into question.
Nighttime rumblings that were heard for miles around turned out to be uncontrolled flaring of gas, caused by a stuck safety valve at Marcus Hook. This is exactly the sort of failure that could lead to a major catastrophe at the facility. No one was notified, and it took an inquiry by a Delaware state official to find out the cause.
How would people respond if they thought Mariner East might have sprung a leak? Would they head “half a mile, uphill and upwind, on foot” as Sunoco suggests? This post answers that question. The explosion at the Boot Road pumping station was heard for miles; and although it did no significant damage, many people were concerned that a pipeline leak had occurred. However, neither Sunoco nor any emergency service could confirm whether there was a leak (and no one took off on foot, uphill and upwind). In the event of a real leak (especially one with no accompanying explosion), residents would have no way to know that the leak was happening, and nobody would be able to tell them. If no one knows whether there’s a leak, even Sunoco’s inadequate advice is useless.
A plague of apparent chemical dumping has affected southern Delaware County recently, producing wide-spread foul odors in the southern half of the County. No one knows whether Sunoco is involved, although the point of origin is certainly near the Marcus Hook terminal. Tim Boyce, who heads the County’s emergency response operations, made an urgent plea to County Council to fund an investigation of the problem.
This post describes the circumstances that could lead to a flammable cloud engulfing Marsh Creek State Park and nearby homes. Not only would there be hundreds of fatalities in that situation, but the only access for emergency vehicles could be blocked for hours until the gas in the pipeline burned itself out. There is no plan for dealing with a catastrophe like this.
In summary… This list of 10 blog posts is a good reminder of the level of risk the public is exposed to by this project, of the close calls there have been already, of Sunoco’s refusal to notify anyone when things go wrong, and of how ill-prepared we are for the day—sooner or later—when something terrible happens.
It is also striking to me, as I look at this list, that the most-viewed posts are predominantly about events that did not take place in the Exton or Goshen area of Chester County, where the epicenter of protest has been in past years. Cleary, pipeline opposition is spreading.