Because of the weak regulations in Pennsylvania, the only permits Sunoco had to get before starting work on the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) were from the Department of Environmental Protection. Those permits, which last 5 years, are expiring about a month from now (February 12, 2022). Sunoco must halt work unless the DEP grants a renewal. This gives the DEP an opportunity to get Sunoco to pay attention to steps it is required to take but has so far dodged.
The DEP should take advantage of the leverage it currently has. It can permit some surface work (such as landscaping) but prohibit anything involving excavation, pipelaying, or welding until Sunoco has taken care of some important unfinished business. The DEP has the power to do this.
Members of the public (that means you!) have until January 24 to file comments with the DEP. This post is about what Sunoco needs to do, how the DEP can make them do it, and what your comments to the DEP should say.
What Sunoco has failed to do. You probably already know about Sunoco’s endless string of environmental violations. At least 125 “Notices of Violation” have been issued by the DEP (you can read them all here). There are also the 48 counts of criminal violation recently issued by a grand jury. It’s clear that Sunoco feels it is above the law.
But those are all acts of violation in the past. What about things Sunoco is supposed to have done but hasn’t? Here are three important ones:
- Cleaning up Marsh Creek Lake. Sunoco leaked tens of thousands of gallons of drilling fluid into the lake. It is supposed to dredge and restore it, but nothing has happened yet.
- Shoring up the Exton library and hiking trail. Sunoco’s pipeline work has shown signs of destabilizing the foundations of the Chester County Library in Exton and has undermined the nearby hiking trail. The company is obligated to fix these problems but has done nothing.
- Providing clean water for those whose wells were damaged. Across the state, many people had their wells polluted by pipeline work (often horizontal directional drilling). Some were helped, but many were simply ignored. The company has an obligation to provide new wells or a connection to a municipal water supply if available.
The DEP should withhold Sunoco’s renewals until at least these three problems are addressed.
I think it would be reasonable to issue some temporary permits for surface restoration: such things as seeding, planting trees, wetland restoration, water bars to prevent runoff. In its application for permit renewal, Sunoco lists many areas where that type of restoration work still needs to be done, and that seems appropriate. But the DEP should not permit real construction work to continue until Sunoco fixes what it has broken. No heavy equipment. No excavation. No pipe laying or welding. No drilling or HDD.
Can the DEP withhold the permits? Yes, it clearly can. Under section 609 of the Clean Streams Act, “The department shall not issue any permit required by this act or renew or amend any permit if it finds, after investigation and an opportunity for informal hearing that … (1) the applicant has failed and continues to fail to comply with any provisions of law which are in any way connected with or related to … any relevant rule, regulation, permit or order of the department … or (2) the applicant has shown a lack of ability or intention to comply with such laws as indicated by past or continuing violations.”
That pretty well describes Sunoco’s past behavior, doesn’t it?
Here’s what you can do. Submit a comment to the DEP. Tell them that Sunoco’s permit renewal should not be granted until the company addresses the three major outstanding issues described above: cleaning up Marsh Creek Lake, fixing the problems at the Chester County library and hiking trail, and providing clean water to those who lost it due to pipeline work.
Also, tell the DEP that a public hearing should be held to allow people to provide their opinions on the renewal application.
You need to submit your comments before January 24. You can submit them by email or letter.
Postal mail: Department of Environmental Protection, Regional Permit Coordination Office, Rachel Carson Building, 400 Market Street, 10th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101