Pa. halts Mariner East 2 work amid 'egregious' violations

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The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued an order suspending construction permits for the Mariner East 2 pipeline, meaning Sunoco Pipeline LP must immediately halt all construction activity.

The agency ordered Sunoco to come up with a plan to fix the problems that have plagued the $2.5 billion pipeline. The system is expected to begin operation in the second quarter of this year.

In November, the state of OH filed a lawsuit against Rover Pipeline, operated and majority-owned by Energy Transfer Partners, for allegedly polluting state waterways as it constructed the 713-mile pipeline to transport natural gas from southwest Pennsylvania across OH and into MI and Ontario, Canada.

"Until Sunoco can demonstrate that the permit conditions can and will be followed, DEP has no alternative but to suspend the permits", DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement.

He continued, "We are living up to our promise to hold this project accountable to the strong protections in the permits". Erosion control maintenance and limited work on some horizontal directional drilling (HDD) equipment may continue to protect the environment.

The company also has to restore or replace the water supply of two homeowners in a township west of Harrisburg who complained last month about "cloudy water" resulting from pipeline construction.

Among the violations noted, DEP in the order says that Sunoco conducted "unauthorized pipeline installation activities" at the Dauphin County Horizontal Directional Drilling site between November 8 and November 20. In September, for example, the DEP said Sunoco violated a court-brokered agreement imposing new restrictions on drilling for the pipeline when it spilled drilling mud into at least three waterways.

The DEP, which ordered the work halted until Sunoco Logistics can operate according to the terms of its permit, has cited the company for dozens of environmental violations.

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Joanne Kilgour, head of the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter, said she hoped the issues with Mariner East 2 would spur Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to take a closer look at how the state approves pipeline projects.

Pipeline spokesman Jeff Shields says the company plans to comply with DEP's request. "We also reiterate our commitment to the highest levels of construction expertise and our dedication to preserving and protecting the environment in which we conduct our work", the statement said.

"We intend to expeditiously submit these reports and we are confident that we will be reauthorized to commence work on this project promptly", said Shields in a statement. "I really believe that the governor wants to push this project through".

The company has said it is trying to abide by the DEP permitting rules and regulations. The DEP said it discovered the bridge was installed on October 28 without the required permit from the department. Resolutions passed by eight local governments along Mariner East II's route observe that over the past decade, Sunoco Logistics has spilled hazardous materials 296 times-more often than any other operator-according to federal pipeline safety regulators.

"Every stakeholder involved in this process has the same shared priority: the safe development of critical infrastructure like Mariner East 2", said Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the alliance, which supports private investments in pipeline and other energy infrastructure developments.

Energy Transfer Partners had hired TigerSwan, a private security firm, to conduct "surveillance, monitoring, social media engagement, and counter-intelligence" on the Mariner East 2 protesters, as it did with the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota in 2016.

"This project remains critically important for our commonwealth", he said.