The Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County, a community group fighting the ongoing Mariner East pipeline project through Lebanon County, is angry but not surprised by recent revelations about safety issues and secrecy surrounding the plan.
The project was the subject of a recent series of stories reported by Spotlight PA and reprinted by LebTown.com.
“They are comprehensive, eye-opening and disturbing reports,” Pam Bishop, who leads the citizens group with Doug Lorenzen, said in a statement Thursday.
Three pipelines are part of the 350-mile Mariner East system, which is owned by Sunoco and its parent company, Energy Transfer. The system runs across the lower half of Pennsylvania from Ohio and West Virginia to a storage and processing facility in Marcus Hook, just outside Philadelphia. The system includes an 8-inch pipeline, first built in the 1930s to transport products like heating oil, which has since been repurposed.
Sunoco placed the Mariner East 1 pipeline back into service in 2014, and in 2017, began construction on the larger pipes that are 16 and 20 inches in diameter. The company is temporarily using a hybrid structure — a combination of 12-inch, 16-inch and 20-inch pipes — to run gas through Chester and Delaware counties until the entire 20-inch line is complete.
The project has been marked with controversy, including community opposition along its route and numerous gasoline spills and other accidents that have earned Energy Transfer a hefty debt in fines.
In August, the Clean Air Council wrote to the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection demanding that the projectsbe “immediately and permanently shut down” throughout the state.
Since new construction began in February 2017, DEP has issued about 100 violations to the company for polluting high-value wetlands, waterways and private wells.
Reacting to the most recent reports, Bishop said members of the citizens group do not believe Sunoco has adequately addressed safety issues in Lebanon County, nor has the company provided sufficient information to residents, municipalities and emergency management agencies along the pipeline’s route.
For instance, Bishop said, Lorenzen in 2015 attended a training session for local responders held by Sunoco at the Mount Gretna Fire Company.
In the event of a serious accident, she said, Lorenzen was told “it would take nearly an hour for Sunoco’s response team to come from Sinking Springs to shut off valves,” and that local responders “were not permitted to touch them.”
“The only thing first responders were authorized to do was to warn residents to evacuate upwind and uphill on foot but don’t drive or ring doorbells to avoid igniting the vapors,” she said.
Furthermore, Bishop said in an email to LebTown, Sunoco “refused to meet with the public about safety issues when invited by the Lebanon County Commissioners several years ago.” And, she added, “we are not aware of any safety protocols specific to pipelines transporting Natural Gas Liquids that are in place to keep Lebanon County residents safe.”
The citizens group also is dissatisfied with DEP’s enforcement of pipeline protocols.
“DEP does not regulate ‘safety’ but does issue permits to regulate soil erosion and sedimentation and encroachment on streams and wetlands during construction,” she said. However, despite issuing multiple notices of violation to Sunoco throughout the life of the project, “DEP continues to authorize construction at the site.”
“Overall, DEP has issued more than 100 (notices of violation) and several millions of dollars in fines to Sunoco and yet the violations and environmental harm continue,” Bishop said. “Obviously, civil penalties don’t gain compliance.”
Bishop believes the project’s “horrendous compliance history” warrants the revocation of Sunoco’s DEP permits. But she doesn’t have a lot of confidence that things will change.
“For the past two weeks, I have been watching (via Zoom) with dismay the hearings before the Public Utility Commission in the case filed by the ‘Safety 7’ against Sunoco alleging the inadequacy of their public information outreach and emergency planning in connection with the Mariner East pipeline system,” she said.
The “Safety 7” is a group of seven residents of Delaware and Chester counties who have filed a lawsuit with the PUC to halt pipeline construction and operations.
“Two counties, a number of municipalities, school districts and private citizens joined in the case offering testimony of worried residents, parents, emergency planners and school officials,” Bishop said.
“The Spotlight PA articles are comprehensive, eye-opening and disturbing reports that strengthen my belief that Sunoco’s public information and outreach and emergency planning and training are woefully inadequate to protect public health and safety from the threat associated with the Mariner East Natural Gas Liquids pipeline project.”
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