Those who follow natural gas development, or have watched the evening news in the past two years know of Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline projects as one of the controversial endeavors in the state. The three Mariner East pipelines, the Mariner East 1, 2 and 2x, are a hotbed of disputes with nearly a hundred regulatory violations piling up among the trio.
Now, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is stepping in to assist Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland in her office’s investigation into the pipelines. The investigation is into any criminal actions that Sunoco or parent company Energy Transfer LP has committed. State representatives have commented on the investigation, one stating that Sunoco’s ongoing operation of the Mariner East pipelines without an emergency plan in place is “risking catastrophe, which is a criminal offense”.
The Mariner East pipelines and other pipeline projects of Sunoco’s have been the source of several serious incidents in the recent past. Most notably, a Sunoco owned and operated pipeline, though not of the Mariner East trio, exploded in Beaver County destroying at least one house. The Mariner East projects specifically have led to the contamination of water sources, mudslides and sinkholes in Chester County alone. Though there was a brief stoppage of all ME pipelines recently, they are now operational and transporting liquid natural gas across the Commonwealth.
This investigation could be a real wake-up call for the oil and gas industry operating in the Marcellus Shale play and in Pennsylvania itself. Where fines for violations, of which the Mariner East projects have racked up over $12 million worth, fail and violations persist, it was only a matter of time before investigations branched from regulatory in nature to criminal.