Harrisburg, PA – On Tuesday, July 25, a judge on Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board ordered a temporary stop to all horizontal drilling operations underway to construct the Mariner East 2 pipeline. The ruling against Sunoco Logistics (which recently merged with Energy Transfer Partners) was issued as part of an ongoing lawsuit by Clean Air Council and other environmental groups. It requires the pipeline company to cease all horizontal drilling activities, but permits other construction activities, including non-horizontal drilling, to continue.
One day earlier, on July 24, a Public Utilities Commission judge had also ruled to grant an emergency order sought by West Goshen Township to “cease and desist all current construction” in their area. West Goshen alleges Sunoco violated the terms of a Settlement Agreement made with the township in 2015 by building on township property without permission, ignoring local regulations, and parking in front of the local fire department’s driveway.
Pipeline contractors employed by Sunoco Logistics have had a series of “inadvertent returns“ (drilling slurry spills into groundwater) along the pipeline route, including but not limited to; spills in Chester County, Blair County, Delaware County, Westmoreland County, Washington County, Allegheny County, Indiana County, and Huntingdon County.
According to Clean Air Council, court filings made last week “disclosed 61 drilling fluid spills and water contamination in multiple Pennsylvania regions.”
Earlier this month, we visited neighborhoods in Chester County where drilling leaks in West Whiteland Township had ruined local sources of drinking water.
The $2.5 billion dollar pipeline would carry natural gas liquids such as propane, ethane, and butane from frack fields in Scio, Ohio, across West Virginia and Pennsylvania to export terminals at Marcus Hook, near Philadelphia, where they would be shipped across the sea for use by the European plastics industry.
In Huntingdon, in central Pennsylvania, tree-sits at Camp White Pine have blocked the Mariner East 2 right-of-way for many months. Sunoco work crews began preemptively clearing trees on the Gerhart family’s property in 2015, bringing sheriffs’ deputies who arrested several people. Many trees of a conserved forest plot were cut down but some trees were occupied, and remain to this day as part of a tree-sit village. Sunoco is active in areas near Camp White Pine, but despite a recent court injunction giving police more authority to make arrests on the family’s private property, they have not yet tried to retake their eminent domain easement on the Gerhart’s land.
The order to halt horizontal directional drilling lasts until the next Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board hearing on August 7. Sunoco reportedly expects to be able to resume drilling after the hearing, promising to “demonstrate that we have expended every effort to meet the strict conditions of our environmental permits.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2015 by Clean Air Council, Mountain Watershed Association, Inc., and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network seeks to stop Mariner East 2 entirely, asserts that permits from the Department of Environmental Protection “failed to adequately address the severe negative impacts of the pipeline project on Pennsylvania’s streams, wetlands and forests.” The case heads to trial at Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court later this year.