The Safety 7 case is coming down to the wire, with final hearings at the end of September. (Your contributions are urgently needed to make sure the best possible case is presented—see the end of this post for information on contributing.)

Sunoco has long insisted that it complies with the federal law requiring a risk assessment of pipeline projects. This has been the case throughout the construction of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). And Sunoco has also insisted that it could not release its risk assessments to the public because they were claimed to be ”Extremely Sensitive Information” and therefore not subject to public review.

During the “discovery” phase of the Safety 7 case, Sunoco refused to provide the risk assessment materials to the Safety 7 lawyers. The Safety 7 lawyers appealed to the judge, who agreed that they should be permitted to see the assessments, even if they would not be able to have copies of their own.

So, in August of 2019, arrangements were made for two of the Safety 7 lawyers to view Sunoco’s risk assessments for Mariner East. This was done in a Pittsburgh office under the supervision of a Sunoco lawyer.

The details of the documents remain confidential, of course. But what the Safety 7 lawyers found in examining the documents was that in fact Sunoco had only analyzed potential consequences of a leak, without also analyzing the probability of a leak.  Both elements—probability and consequences—are necessary for a risk assessment. Even the headings of the documents described them merely as “consequence” assessments.

Motion for Partial Summary Judgement. As a result of what they learned, the Safety 7 lawyers have filed a “motion for partial summary judgement”. You can read the full document here. The gist of it is that Sunoco’s so-called risk assessments do not qualify as proper risk assessments under federal law, and that the pipeline should be shut down until Sunoco can provide a real risk assessment.

The argument the lawyers make is quite straightforward. They argue that the following is not disputed:

  • Federal law requires an “integrity management plan” (IM plan) based on “the risk that the pipeline poses to high consequence [densely-settled] areas”.
  • The Pennsylvania code adopts that federal requirement.
  • As Sunoco’s own expert risk consultant, John Zurcher, has testified numerous times, risk is a combination of the consequence of a failure and its likelihood.
  • Delaware and Chester Counites are “high consequence areas”, so an appropriate IM plan is required.
  • Clearly, Sunoco does not have a qualifying IM plan (or if it does, it failed to show the plan to the Safety 7 lawyers).

The federal regulations say that “no operator may operate or maintain its pipeline system at a level lower than required by this [regulation]”.

Because Sunoco does not have a proper IM plan, the Safety 7 lawyers conclude, “The [PUC] has the power and the duty to suspend Sunoco’s operation of HVL [highly-volatile liquid] pipeline service in Chester and Delaware Counties until such time as Sunoco complies with the law.”

The Motion was filed on September 1. Sunoco must file a response within 20 days. If they don’t, they face the possibility of an adverse decision being rendered without their input. I will keep you posted on this situation as it develops.

Urgent: the Safety 7 case needs your support. The final Safety 7 hearings are coming up at the end of September. Funds are urgently needed for court costs and expert witness fees.  You can help through your financial support for the Safety 7 case. Any amount, small or large, is a help. Details are on the Safety 7 GoFundMe site here.