The Mariner East pipeline project, already the subject of large civil penalties and state and federal investigations into possible criminal activity, is facing more problems.
A former technician working on the Energy Transfer project to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline from Ohio and across Pennsylvania was charged March 10 by the U.S. attorney’s office with falsifying a document indicating a pipeline weld had been X-rayed and approved when it had not.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) has oversight over interstate pipeline projects and sets minimum safety standards that must be met. One of those regulations is that pipeline welds must be tested to confirm their integrity. A faulty weld could lead to a leak or catastrophic explosion.
“Non-destructive testing” is used to confirm a weld’s integrity, which involves X-raying each numbered weld, interpreting the results, and recording on a “reader sheet” whether each weld is accepted or rejected. The pipeline owner must keep the reader sheets as proof of testing as required by PHMSA.
The criminal information indicates that Joshua Springer of Scottdale, Westmoreland County, was employed by a company working on the pipeline as a radiograph technician and was assigned to test welds on two 20-mile sections of the pipeline between May 2017 and June 2018. The first section was between Houston, Washington County, and Delmont, Westmoreland County, and the second from Delmont to Blair County. In August 2017, Springer allegedly filled out a reader sheet that stated that a pipeline weld had been X-rayed and the resulting exposures were acceptable. In fact, the weld had not been properly X-rayed, and the exposures were neither interpreted correctly nor acceptable, according to the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
A plea hearing in federal court in Pittsburgh has tentatively been set for April 1 and he could face jail time and/or a fine.
In addition, the AP has reported that the FBI is investigating the approval of the pipeline and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro has acknowledged that he is investigating possible environmental crimes committed by oil and gas companies.
The Mariner East pipeline was allowed to resume construction in January after being shut down following a September 2018 explosion and fire along Energy Transfer’s Revolution pipeline in Beaver County, which had just gone into service. The state Department of Environmental Protection imposed a $30.6 million fine against Energy Transfer for its “lack of oversight” and failure to comply with earlier orders to stabilize landslide prone areas.
Now, with the Gov. Tom Wolf’s order for all non-life-sustaining businesses to shut down to prevent the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus, the pipeline must again temporarily shut down most of its activities in Eastern Pennsylvania and it is unknown when it may resume.