A lawsuit has been filed in Delaware County court on behalf of 15 apartment dwellers whose lives have been disrupted by work on the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). A drill site adjacent to the Tunbridge Apartments complex in Middletown, Delaware County, caused a wide variety of problems for residents, especially during a four-month period of continuous 24-hour operation. The pipeline right-of-way runs through the middle of the Tunbridge complex and the Glen Riddle Station apartments, across the street.
The lawsuit (to which there is a link here) focuses on three main areas of complaint:
- Environmental contamination;
- Major nuisance and inconvenience, especially during 24/7 operations;
- Intimidation, harassment, fear, and loss of access to outdoor space
The plaintiffs also “live in constant fear of future physical illness, particularly with respect to the health of their minor children and grandchildren.”
The suit lists more than 50 specific complaints. Here are some representative examples. The quotes are from the language of the lawsuit itself.
- The grounds of the Tunbridge complex experienced inadvertent returns (frack-outs) on April 18, 19, 20, and 23 of 2018. The drilling mud involved contained “hazardous chemicals that are carcinogenic and toxic” according to the suit.
- “…spills related to the drilling, including Bentonite spills into nearby Chester Creek, … caused the plaintiffs to suffer contamination and fear of contamination, of the earth, soil, and their drinking water, along with other health risks.”
- “In addition to the above, a gasoline leak from the defendants’ pipelines occurred at the Tunbridge Apartments on November 11, 2019, causing various EMS, fire departments, and police departments, media, and the DEP to race to the scene, due to the strong odor and fear of contamination and explosion, causing additional nuisances and more exposure to toxins and additional fear to be instilled in the plaintiffs.”
- “Upon information and belief, the defendants have maintained their activities in such a negligent and improper manner as to violate various Pennsylvania state laws and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder, including but not limited to the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law…; the Pennsylvania Solid Waste Management Act…; the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act…; the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act…; the Federal Solid Waste Disposal Act…; the Federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act…; and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act….”
Nuisance and inconvenience during 24/7 work:
- 24/7 work began mid-June 2018. Residents were told it would last a week or two, but it continued until October 1, 2018, almost four months.
- Huge lights were erected. Construction was ongoing in backyards and near homes.
- Work vehicles, worker’s vehicles, and construction equipment filled the parking lots, leaving insufficient parking for residents.
- Light shone into apartments and bedrooms “at all hours of the night”.
- During 24/7 activities, “the amount of workers increased exponentially.”
- Construction workers “constantly talked, laughed, and yelled, throughout the day and night, causing sleepless nights and disruption of the plaintiffs’ activities.”
- “…strangers routinely slept in their work vehicles.”
- “The constant noise, light, and disturbances from the construction activities made sleep difficult, which made it difficult for plaintiffs to concentrate during school and/or work hours…”
- “…the residences of the plaintiffs shook and vibrated throughout the day and night.”
- “…the [apartment] doors and windows had to be kept closed at all times, due to the dust, noise, and lights, and the drones flying overhead.”
- “…the plaintiffs were left tired, fatigued, and in a ‘mental fog’ due to the lack of sleep caused by defendants’ activities, constant noise, and harassment.”
- “[It was] akin to living in a prison.”
Intimidation, harassment, fear, and loss of access to outdoor space
- “[Sunoco] agents, employees, and workmen … utilized foul language, within earshot of both adults and children” “[Employees] left trash scattered throughout the plaintiffs’ properties and adjoining properties”
- “Due to the looming and threatening nature of the out-of-state construction workers who were constantly present at the Tunbridge complex, a security guard had to be hired by the school district to ‘man’ the children’s nearby bus stop. This ‘security measure’ of having the security guard at the bus stop remained present for months, was quite alarming to the minor children and their parents, and helped create a ‘prison-like’ atmosphere.”
- “…the minor plaintiffs at Tunbridge were robbed of their ability to play outdoors during the day. [They] were unable to explore the woods or nearby creek, or play in the ‘park’ outback, and enjoy many other outside activities.”
- Construction activities were “highly invasive and adversely affected the plaintiffs’ quality of life, privacy, and right to quiet enjoyment of their residences and properties.” The workers made them uncomfortable.
- Residents couldn’t “enjoy many amenities…including the pool.” They could not use their balconies.
- “…drones of the defendants constantly flew overhead, robbing the plaintiffs of their right to privacy.”
- “Plaintiffs, furthermore, felt, and feel, a constant fear of explosion due to the nearby construction activities and fear of the highly [volatile] NGL (natural gas liquids) which are to pass through a pipeline which is, in part, 85 years old, on a daily basis; should ignition occur, the explosion would incinerate the plaintiffs, which causes the plaintiffs, who remain at Tunbridge and Glen Riddle Station Apartments, to no longer feel safe in their homes.”
Alleged violations and relief sought. The suit contains a list of six “causes of action”—essentially, the violations of law that it alleges. These include (1) violating the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, (2) negligence in properly informing and protecting the public, (3) causing a nuisance that deprived the plaintiffs of basic rights, (4) incurring liability for creating an “abnormally dangerous and ultra-hazardous activity”, (5) causing exposure to hazardous substances that require medical monitoring, and (6) conducting activities that were “grossly, recklessly and wantonly negligent, and were done with utter disregard for the consequences to plaintiffs and other persons.”
The suit asks the court to impose five kinds of “relief” (i.e. penalties). It seeks:
“(i) The cost of future health monitoring;
(ii) Compensatory damages for the damage to the natural resources of the environment in and around the plaintiffs’ properties, medical costs, loss of use and enjoyment of their property, loss of quality of life, emotional distress, nuisance, inconvenience, personal injury, and such other reasonable damages incidental to the claims;
(iii) Punitive damages for defendants’ fraudulent misrepresentation and reckless and outrageous conduct;
(iv) Plaintiffs’ litigation costs and fees; and
(v) Any further relief that the Court may find appropriate.”
No specific dollar amounts are given.
As a non-lawyer, it is impossible for me to judge whether this suit is likely to be successful. But it certainly highlights some of the trauma being suffered by people living near the pipeline construction. There are a number of other apartment complexes, and countless residential neighborhoods, where complaints of this kind would be justified.
For the Tunbridge/Glen Riddle residents, there is this additional burden: although the work is stopped for now, Sunoco has filed plans to resume it. The initial attempt at HDD in this location ended in failure, so the company wants to start all over. This work is among the permit requests for which the DEP had planned public hearings. The hearings were cancelled because of Covid-19 and, unless there is public outcry, they will not be rescheduled. For information on how to register your opinion on this, click here.