The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has ordered Sunoco to reroute a portion of its Mariner East 2 pipeline near Philadelphia after a construction spill of drilling fluid into a popular recreational lake.
It’s the first time the state has ordered the rerouting of a section of the pipeline. In August, Sunoco subsidiary Energy Transfer spilled more than 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid, which is classified as industrial waste, while constructing the pipeline in an area of Chester County. The “inadvertent return” of the drilling mud impacted wetlands, two tributaries to Marsh Creek Lake, and the lake itself. Thirty-three acres of the lake had to be closed to boating and other recreational uses as a result.
The spill is the latest incident in the project’s troubled history. The 350-mile long pipeline project is being built to move natural gas and gas products from the Marcellus shale basin in southwestern Pennsylvania across the Commonwealth to a terminal in Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. There have been multiple fines issued to Sunoco for previous spills and other violations.
“These incidents are yet another instance where Sunoco has blatantly disregarded the citizens and resources of Chester County with careless actions while installing the Mariner East 2 pipeline. We will not stand for more of the same. An alternate route must be used,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “The department is holding Sunoco responsible for its unlawful actions and demanding a proper cleanup. To the fullest extent possible under our laws and regulations, we will continue to hold this accompany accountable for their actions, impacts and behavior.”
The DEP ordered Sunoco to reroute an approximately 1 mile section of the 20-inch pipeline further away from the lake, and to immediately stop all construction on that section. The company had re-evaluated the site following two 2017 spills in the same area during construction of a 16-inch line and determined that a rerouting was technically feasible. While it also found that there was “moderate to high risk” of another inadvertent return during construction of the 20-inch line, it concluded that using the original route was preferable. DEP has now overruled that.
DEP also ordered to submit full reports on how the latest spill occurred, and an impact assessment and cleanup plan, by Oct. 1.
The latest incident comes as Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro has taken a hard line on the gas industry, issuing a report highly critical of the state’s environmental enforcement and filing criminal charges against several natural gas operators. While Sunoco and Energy Transfer have not been charged, Shapiro announced last year that he was joining with the Delaware County district attorney to investigate numerous incidents, including spills and sinkholes. Most recently, a welding technician who worked on the pipeline pleaded guilty to falsifying welding documents on his work, which could have had disastrous consequences if a weld were to fail.
Many citizens and environmental groups in the eastern Pennsylvania have been outspoken about their issues with the Mariner East project, and have called for its construction to be halted, further adding to the scrutiny.