A new legal battle over the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) was launched yesterday (October 7, 2020) with the announcement of a suit against Sunoco for covering up adverse geological findings.

The Clean Air Council has announced its intent to file suit under Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Act. Under its DEP pipeline permits, Sunoco was required to hire professional geologists (PGs) to monitor its worksites for potential environmental problems.  But starting in 2020, according to the suit, those PGs were systematically prevented from reporting information that might result in work begin slowed down.

The “Notice of Intent to Sue” lists two major problem areas. First, Sunoco is preventing its PGs from properly reporting problems, such as sinkholes, which may lead to pollution. Instead, the PGs must report the sinkholes as “earth features”, which means they do not require DEP investigation and approval for continued work. Sunoco is also preventing the PGs from investigating and reporting any problems that lie outside a Sunoco-defined “limit of disturbance”, even if the problem is clearly construction-related. Further, PGs were ordered to stop monitoring problems after a week, even if the problem continued.

The second area addressed by the suit is the fraudulent modification of data. Sunoco is requiring PGs to submit editable reports, which non-geologists then modify before submitting them to the DEP. The company also insists that the PGs make their findings match those of Sunoco’s own inspectors. Sunoco will not permit the PGs to speak to third parties (such as drillers or inspectors from the PUC and DEP). They can speak only to Sunoco’s own inspectors.

The role of the PGs in the construction process is supposed to be to provide an independent assessment, separate from that of the company, on environmental issues. These Sunoco policies have removed that independence.

StateImpact reports that the suit was triggered by a professional geologist who was terminated because his reports did not conform to these rules.

In this suit, Clean Air Council will be represented by Fair Shake, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit environmental law firm.

This lawsuit is completely separate from the “Safety 7” case currently before the PUC (which alleges unworkable safety plans and inadequate pipeline maintenance) and the DEP order to reroute the pipeline away from Marsh Creek Lake (which deals with the pollution of the lake from drilling mud).