This page is a listing of cases before the Public Utility Commission (PUC) related to the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). I will endeavor to keep this up to date as hearing dates are announced and decisions are handed down.
I have updated it to the best of my ability as of March 13, 2019. Readers who find errors or items that are out of date are urged to submit corrections via the “comments” facility.
For readers not familiar with the PUC’s unique terminology, there is a brief explanation of the PUC-related terms “intervenor”, “pro se”, “formal complaint”, “emergency petition”, “docket” and “standing” here.
The cases are listed by date of filing, most recent first. Each docket number is a link to the “Consolidated Case View”, where you can see a list of PUC actions and documents in the case.
Complainant: Rebecca Britton (Docket C-2019-3006898)
Intervenor: Josh Maxwell
Request: Determine whether pipeline is safe and reasonable, given: no warning system, limited public awareness, limitations of Emergency Alert system, lack of evacuation plans, limited ability of children to self-evacuate, possible effect on water supplies, possible dam encroachment, danger to state park, danger to sensitive environments, potential for horizontal directional drilling problems, potential of leak at valve site near a school, lack of plans required by Title 35, limited PEMA insurance policy, questionable routing.
The case: Britton is filing pro se (without a lawyer). Her original complaint is not published on the PUC docket, but it is provided as an attachment to Sunoco’s response (which is available on the docket). It provides an extensive listing of virtually all the objections to the Mariner pipelines that have been raised. Sunoco filed an equally extensive response, listing its reasons for dismissing the complaint, and Britton filed two rebuttals. These documents, amounting to almost 100 pages in total, are all available on the PUC docket.
Unlike the other complaints, which tend to be narrow in scope and focused on very specific issues, Britton’s complaint is very wide-ranging and reveals a great deal of research. Her responses to Sunoco’s objections are also remarkably extensive. She has obviously put an enormous amount of time into this effort.
Complainant: Laura Obenski (Docket C-2019-3006905)
Request: Find Sunoco’s public awareness program inadequate, find detection/notification systems inadeqate, find that insufficient data has been provided for emergency planning, find valve placement near schools to be neither “safe” nor “reasonable”.
The case: Obenski is filing pro se (without a lawyer). Her original complaint is not published on the PUC docket, but it is provided as an attachment to Sunoco’s response (which is available on the docket).
Her argument covers four main points. (1) Sunoco has not adquately educated the public on how to identify leaks and evacuate safely. (2) The tools for detecting leaks and notifying the public are inadequate. That means the PUC cannot find the pipelines “safe and reasonable” to the public. (3) Students at several of the Downingtown Area School District schools are at risk because the District is unable to prepare proper emergency plans. (4) The location of a valve station adjacent to the Shamona Creek Elementary School and the Sixth Grade Center poses a safety risk.
Complainant: PUC Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (Docket C-2018-3006534)
Intervenors: West Whiteland Township, West Goshen Township, Tom Casey, Josh Maxwell
Request: Fine Sunoco, specify a retirement date for ME1, increase “pig” inspections, revise corrosion control procedures, determine adequacy of cathodic protection, implement new procedures within one year, replace pipeline wherever possible corrosion is found.
Status: On 3/1/2019, lawyers for Sunoco and the Bureau sent a joint letter to the secretary of the PUC requesting 30 days to file a settlement of the complaint (the principles of which, they said, had already been worked out).
The case: As a result of its investigation of the April 2017 ME1 leak near Morgantown, PA, the PUC’s own Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (BI&E) filed a complaint against Sunoco. The BI&E found that the leak was caused by corrosion, and the corrosion was caused by Sunoco’s failure to properly operate the anti-corrosion technology it had in place and failure to do anything about dangerous pipe thinning that its own inspections had revealed. Both of these failures would have been avoided if Sunoco had actually followed the maintenance procedures it had on file, but it did not follow them. As a result, the BI&E is concerned that ME1 could be corroded and in danger of leaking all across the state. There is a lot of technical detail involved in the complaint, but I have summarized it in my blog post “Sunoco sat by while ME1 rusted”, which also has links leading to all the technical detail.
Complainant: Flynn et al. (“Safety Seven” case; Docket C-2018-3006116)
Intervenors (for Flynn et al.): Andover Homeowners’ Association, Inc., Downingtown Area School District, Rose Tree Media School District, Twin Valley School District, West Chester Area School District, East Goshen Township, West Whiteland Township, Uwchlan Township, Middletown Township, Delaware County, Thornbury Township. The PUC’s Bureau of Inspection and Enforcement submitted a petition to intervene to correct a Sunoco mischaracterization, then withdrew when Sunoco changed its statement. Pending: Upper Uwchlan Township, Chester County, Edgmont Township.
Intervenors (for Sunoco): Range Resources
Status: Pre-hearing conference call scheduled for April 24
Request: Cease operation of ME1, and prevent operation of other Mariner pipelines until a credible safety plan is in place.
The case: This case was filed by seven residents of Delaware and Chester Counties as both an emergency petition and a formal complaint. At a hearing in late November, 2018, Judge Barnes rejected the emergency petition (P-2018-3006117) finding that there was not an emergency, and the full Commission ratified that ruling, so the case continues as a formal complaint.
The petition argues that the PUC is required to make sure the public is kept safe, and part of that duty is to ensure that Sunoco has provided the public with safety plans that would actually keep them safe in a pipeline emergency. The only plans disseminated so far have advised people to walk upwind and away from the pipeline, on foot and without using any electrical switches or cell phones. They are supposed to call 911 when they have reached a safe area.There is no information in Sunoco’s plans about how people would be alerted to a leak in time to respond, how they would know the wind direction, how they would know they have reached a safe area (since the gases can’t be seen or smelled), under what circumstances (if any) they should remain indoors, how those who can’t walk (because of age or disability) would be protected, and so on.
This case is narrowly focused on the safety, emergency planning, and public information issues at the heart of the pipeline discussion. That has helped it to attract a long list of intervenors.
Complainant: Melissa DiBernardino (Docket C-2018-3005025)
Intervenors: Tom Casey, Ginny Kerslake
Request: Shut down ME1, halt construction of other Mariner pipelines, provide credible emergency plans.
The case: DiBernardino is filing pro se (without a lawyer). Her filing has not been made public, but you can get a sense of it by reading Sunoco’s response, which is public. She wants ME1 shut down, construction and operational plans for ME2, M2x halted, and plans to use the 12-inch bypass pipeline stopped, all due to safety concerns and the lack of a credible plan for emergencies. No hearing has been scheduled yet, but there has been a pre-hearing conference call, and a second pre-hearing call has been scheduled.
Complainant: Wilmer Baker (Docket C-2018-3004294)
Request: Provide an alarm system, train first responders adequately, replace old iron pipe with new American steel.
Hearing scheduled: Thursday, March 28, 10am, Commonwealth Keystone Building, 400 North Street, Harrisburg
The case: Baker, a Cumberland County resident, is filing pro se (without a lawyer). Baker’s original complaint is not available on the web, but in an interview with PennLive he said his main concerns were that Sunoco needed to install an alarm system, that first responders weren’t adequately trained, and that Sunoco needed to replace old, iron pipe with new American steel pipe. Sunoco’s lawyers filed a series of objections, and Baker responded to them. These documents, including Baker’s handwritten responses, are available to the public on the PUC docket.
Complainant: Andover Homeowners’ Association, Inc. (Docket C-2018-3003605)
Intervenors (for Andover): Rosemary Fuller, Clean Air Council, Melissa DiBernardino, East Goshen Township.
Intervenors (for Sunoco): Range Resources
Request: Determine whether Sunoco can operate Mariner system safely; require a credible plan for notification and evacuation.
The case: This formal complaint was filed by the homeowners’ association of the Andover subdivision in Delaware County, near the Chester County border. The right-of-way for all four pipelines (ME1, ME2, ME2X, and the 12-inch “bypass” pipeline) pass through its property, and Sunoco cut down many old-growth trees in the association’s green space in preparation for pipeline construction, although it has done no actual pipeline work there in the ensuing months.
The Andover complaint asks the PUC to perform a complete risk assessment “to determine whether Sunoco is able to operate any or all of the Mariner East System” safely, and it asks for a “credible notification and evacuation plan” in the event of a release.
The Andover group asked for its complaint to be consolidated with State Senator Dinniman’s, and that initially looked like a good idea, since it would strengthen both cases. On September 4, 2018, Judge Barnes consolidated the cases under the Dinniman docket number (C-2018-3001451). But when Senator Dinniman’s standing ended up in Commonwealth Court, that halted the consolidated case (including the Andover complaint) in its tracks.
Complainant: State Senator Andy Dinniman (C-2018-3001451)
Intervenors (for Dinniman): Andover Homeowners’ Association, Inc., Ginny Kerslake, Clean Air Council, West Whiteland Township.
Intervenors (for Sunoco): Range Resources,
Request: Stop work on ME2 and ME2X in West Whiteland.
The case: This was the first of the cases filed with the PUC in opposition to the Dragonpipe. It was filed as both an emergency petition and as a formal complaint, following the first sinkhole problems at Lisa Drive near Exton. Administrative Law Judge Barnes, in the hearing for the emergency petition, ruled that an emergency existed and work on ME2 and ME2X should be halted in West Whiteland. But the full PUC overruled that decision and construction was allowed to resume. Sunoco then challenged Dinniman’s standing to even file a complaint; and although the PUC granted him standing, Sunoco appealed the ruling to Commonwealth Court where the case has languished for months. As of this writing (2-13-19) the PUC has just filed a strongly-worded brief with Commonwealth Court in support of Dinniman’s standing. It is unclear when the court will rule, and the PUC will not act on the complaint itself until that appeal is decided. That situation also affects the Andover Homeowners’ Association case.
I am grateful to Caroline Hughes for compiling an updated table of cases and encouraging me to use it as the starting point for this page.