Sunoco workers huddling (Lora 4-3-20)
Sunoco workers often ignore “social distancing” on the job. This is how Covid-19 is spread.

In order to continue construction work on the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system), Sunoco obtained waivers exempting it from the Governor’s ban on “non-life-sustaining” business. Sunoco was granted the waivers by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) within three days of application. As a result, Sunoco workers continue to live, work, shop, and assemble across the state, inevitably spreading Covid-19.

The Clean Air Council (CAC) has done an assessment of the waiver requests that were granted and found that they were riddled with flaws. In particular, Sunoco claimed in many cases that the work was needed for “public safety” when in fact there were no actual safety issues identified. As Joseph Minott, head of the CAC writes, “Unless a true, verifiable, and urgent public safety need exists at a worksite, Energy Transfer should join the rest of Pennsylvanians in putting outdoor work on hold to prevent the spread of infection.”

You can read the CAC’s detailed eight-page assessment of each of the six waiver requests here. Some of what Sunoco is asking for may be reasonable, the CAC concludes. But the waivers Sunoco got in waiver requests #3, #4, and #5 in particular have no real justification. I have summarized some of the CAC’s key points below.

Waiver requests 1 and 2. CAC writes that the first two of Sunoco’s six waiver requests may be reasonable, if Sunoco is held to their literal meaning. Waiver Request 1 asks for permission to “inspect and maintain construction spaces”. CAC considers that to be reasonable, as long as Sunoco does not abuse the wording to continue construction. Similarly, Waiver Request 2 asks for ten days to “completely stabilize, secure, and demobilize all construction sites.” That 10-day period has passed, so that waiver has expired. CAC asks that Sunoco be held to that expiration, and warns that the terms of Sunoco’s request “are vague and likely to be stretched by Energy Transfer beyond their common meanings, as it has done with other terminology related to its pipeline projects.”

Waiver request 3. Starting with Waiver Request 3, the CAC has serious objections. In this request, Sunoco asks permission to complete HDD work at Loyalhanna Lake (Westmoreland County), Livermore Drive (Westmoreland County, and Raystown Lake (Huntingdon County). Sunoco has already been fined for environmental violations at the two Lakes, and this waiver invites more of the same. Neither the Loyalhanna nor the Livermore Drive site has even completed the initial “pilot hole” phase of HDD, although Sunoco claims in its application that it is at a “significantly-advanced” stage. That is a misrepresentation, and the DCED should rescind these waivers for that reason alone “because it is based on false pretenses,” the CAC writes. These HDDs should be stopped immediately.

Waiver request 4 concerns the direct bore under Pottstown Pike (Chester County) and trenching at Appalachian Drive (Cumberland County). Sunoco requests permission to continue construction because of safety concerns, but “any such additional risk is minor compared to the risk of spreading disease during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CAC writes.

(Here, I would add to the CAC’s statement. The risk of road collapse that Sunoco alleges at the Pottstown Pike site is actually a bogus argument. The “direct bore” technique being used at this site involves installing a permanent casing as the bore progresses, so wherever the bore is complete, the casing is too. The casing ensures that there will be no collapse if work is stopped just as it stands now.)

At Appalachian Drive, the road is currently closed, which Sunoco calls a “safety hazard”. But as CAC points out, “Energy Transfer has caused hundreds of road closures across the state, and only now is it claiming that they are a safety hazard. While it may be inconvenient for Energy Transfer to need to stop work, that does not make it a safety concern for the general public that overrides the threat and risk of COVID-19.”

Waiver request 5 is a laundry list of miscellaneous claims of safety issues at various sites. In none of them does Sunoco actually specify a significant safety-related issue. In some cases, there are ground water or sedimentation issues, and these (as the CAC points out) should be taken up with the DEP, not the DCED.

Waiver request 6 asks for permission to complete slope-stabilization work along the Revolution pipeline, site of the Beaver County explosion in September of 2018. The company’s settlement with the DEP required this work. The CAC finds that reasonable—as long as Sunoco doesn’t use it as an excuse for actual pipeline construction. “If Energy Transfer indeed only works to do its required slope stabilization efforts, Clean Air Council agrees that this work is necessary for health and safety and merits a waiver,” the CAC writes.

In short, the CAC is asking the DCED to revoke waivers 3, 4, and 5, and to ensure that Sunoco sticks to doing exactly what it requested (and no more) in waivers 1, 2, and 6.

Please contact your elected representatives and the Governor’s office and ask them to get the flawed waivers revoked. Sunoco is not fixing safety hazards. It is actually creating them by continuing to work and providing an opportunity for the virus to spread, when the rest of the state is under “stay at home” orders.