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Pipeline work likely to resume after Sunoco fined $12.6 million by Pennsylvania authorities

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 2/8/18

Construction of the Mariner East II pipeline — already 93 percent complete — is expected to resume, now that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has lifted its …

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Pipeline work likely to resume after Sunoco fined $12.6 million by Pennsylvania authorities

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Construction of the Mariner East II pipeline — already 93 percent complete — is expected to resume, now that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has lifted its suspension of the project.

Lifting the suspension, which DEP had ordered on Jan. 3, results from DEP and Sunoco Pipeline LLP entering into a consent order and agreement.

As part of the order Sunoco has agreed to pay a $12.6 million civil penalty to DEP for violating conditions of permits that DEP had issued to Sunoco for the pipeline, DEP said in a Feb. 8 press release announcing lifting of the suspension. Sunoco is also withdrawing its appeal of the suspension, which Sunoco had filed on Feb. 2, DEP said.

Mainline construction of the pipeline is about 93 percent complete, Mariner East II pipeline spokesman Jeff Shields told the Press & Journal in an email. About 64 percent of the horizontal directional drilling, or directional boring, needed for the pipeline to come on line has also been done.

“While we strongly disagree with (DEP’s) legal conclusions that our conduct was willful or egregious, we felt it was important to our unit holders and to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania that we move forward rather than engage in continued litigation,” Shields said. “We are committed to fully complying with the DEP order, which includes following all permit requirements. Our willingness and ability to comply was acknowledged by the DEP in the consent order and agreement.”

Sunoco had estimated the second quarter of 2018 as the target date for when the pipeline is to be in service. That timetable has not changed, Shields said.

Shields could not give a date for when construction will resume.

“Right now our focus is bringing together our construction crews to review the terms of the consent order and agreement so that every person who works on this project is familiar with new conditions, requirements and expectations of the DEP and our company,” he told the Press & Journal. “Once this has been completed we will begin work.”

“Throughout the life of this project, DEP has consistently held this operator to the highest standard possible,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in the press release. “A permit suspension is one of the most significant penalties DEP can levy. Our action to suspend the permits associated with this project, and the collection of this penalty, are indicative of the strict oversight that DEP has consistently exercised over this project. Today’s announcement is by no means the end of DEP’s oversight.”

The $12.6 million penalty is one of the largest civil penalties collected in a single settlement, DEP said in the release. The money paid by Sunoco for the penalty will go to the Clean Water Fund and the Dams and Encroachments Fund, DEP said.

DEP suspended all construction activities related to the pipeline project on Jan. 3, after the state agency reported multiple permit violations committed by Sunoco throughout Dauphin and the 16 other counties where the pipeline is being built.

The permit violations included Sunoco having conducted “unauthorized pipeline installation activities” at the Dauphin County Horizontal Directional Drilling site in Lower Swatara Township between Nov. 8 and Nov. 20.

The site is located near North Union Street and Oberlin Road/Route 441.

Wetland C28 in Lower Swatara is the “receiving water” for discharges from the Dauphin HDD site, according to the Jan. 3 DEP suspension order. Sunoco was not authorized to conduct HDD activities at this site, the order said.

Shields declined comment regarding the permit violations at the Lower Swatara Township site.

Pipeline supporters praised DEP lifting the suspension, while opponents criticized the move.

"The restart of this project is good news for the workers who were idled and hoping for a speedy resolution after construction was halted, and good news for commonwealth residents who are eager to realize the benefits of one of the state's largest infrastructure energy projects," said Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the pro-pipeline Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance. "DEP's action proves that regulators are being an effective watchdog to ensure safe, responsible development. With the stop-work order lifted, this project can get back on track and Pennsylvania's skilled laborers can get back to work."

But Food & Water Watch organizer Sam Rubin said DEP has made “an outrageous deal” that "sacrifices the health and safety of Pennsylvanians for mere pocket change from Sunoco."

“Gov. Wolf’s message to the thousands of school children living within the blast zone of the Mariner East II is simple: Your safety is less important than Sunoco’s profits," Rubin said. "But make no mistake: the communities threatened by this pipeline will protect themselves from this danger, with or without Gov. Wolf’s support.”