The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Pennsylvania Suspends Mariner East 2 Pipeline Construction
By Sharon Kelly
Pennsylvania suspended permits for Sunoco Pipeline on Wednesday, LP's $2.5 billion Mariner East 2 pipeline project, after finding that the company committed "egregious and willful violations" of state laws.
The order directs Sunoco, a subsidiary of Dakota Access Pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners, to stop Mariner East II construction activities across Pennsylvania. The 306-mile pipeline project would carry 275,000 barrels a day of butane, propane and other liquid fossil fuels from Ohio and West Virginia to the Atlantic coast for export.
"Suspension of the permits described," the order states, "is necessary to correct the egregious and willful violations described herein."
Construction has been plagued by numerous spills and contaminated drinking water supplies for homes in Silver Lake Township, Pennsylvania. State regulators had discovered that Sunoco was drilling under streams without permits when a spill contaminated a high-quality creek in Berks County, Pennsylvania, the order notes—and then found unpermitted construction at over a half-dozen other locations along the pipeline's route.
The 24-page order requires the company to provide a report that "fully explains the failures that led to the violations," to outline the steps it will take to prevent recurrences, to address the private water wells contaminated in Silver Lake Township "to the satisfaction of the private well owners," and to "properly abandon" illegally drilled pilot holes within 10 days, as well as a long list of other terms and conditions. The only activities allowed will be those associated with ensuring the shutdown is done safely and without further environmental damage.
"Until Sunoco can demonstrate that the permit conditions can and will be followed, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has no alternative but to suspend the permits," Pennsylvania DEP Sec. Patrick McDonnell said in a statement announcing the order.
Pipeline opponents called on the department to go further.
"What we really need is a full and permanent halt to construction and a full, transparent and public assessment of the risks associated with the Mariner East 2," Food & Water Watch organizer Sam Rubin said in a statement. A May Food & Water Watch report called attention to the role that Mariner East II would play in efforts to convert ethane from fracked gas wells into a new glut of plastics, citing the health hazards for workers and communities near petrochemical manufacturing, as well as the growing plastics gyres in the Pacific Ocean.
More directly, Sunoco has a checkered record nationwide when it comes to hazardous materials pipeline spills. 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.
This is not the first time Mariner East II has been halted. Last summer, a Pennsylvania court ordered Mariner East II construction temporarily suspended following numerous objections, until Sunoco agreed to stronger project oversight from the state.
Energy Transfer Partners, parent company of Sunoco Pipeline, said that it did not plan to abandon construction efforts.
"We received an order this morning from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that instructed us to suspend construction activities in Pennsylvania with respect to Mariner East 2 until reauthorized by the Pennsylvania DEP," Energy Transfer Partners spokesman Jeff Shields said in a statement. "The order requires us to submit various reports related to current and future construction activities. We intend to expeditiously submit these reports and we are confident that we will be reauthorized to commence work on this project promptly."
Still, there are signs that investors are growing frustrated with delays. The project's permits originally anticipated that construction would be done by 2016. This fall, Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren told investors during an earnings call that it might try to bring in a joint venture partner to help carry the costs. "We are open-minded," Warren said. "If a partner was bringing liquids, bringing value to the project, we would consider that."
Pipeline opponents say that the risks won't end after construction is over, citing safety concerns associated with the liquid fuels Mariner East II will carry very close to schools, senior homes and businesses through the densely populated suburbs of Philadelphia. An analysis by FracTracker found that over 100,000 people live within a quarter mile of Mariner East II's proposed path. A worst-case scenario explosion could bring a fireball with an even larger radius, a study by commissioned by a local safety coalition found last year, prompting one school to start conducting safety drills.
That's in addition to the environmental concerns associated with the problem-plagued construction.
"In my district alone, pipeline construction has contaminated almost two dozen wells, disrupted businesses, created significant environmental damage and resulted in the development of an expanding sinkhole that currently threatens at least two private homes and is within 100 feet of Amtrak's Keystone Line," State Sen. Andy Dinniman wrote on Dec. 18 to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. "I should point out that all of these incidents have occurred in a single Chester County municipality [near Philadelphia] as a result of pipeline construction."
Public safety advocates said that they considered Wednesday's order a partial victory.
"[The] announcement is a small step in the right direction, but the responsible course of action for Gov. Wolf is to stop Mariner East construction until and unless a public safety risk assessment is available," Caroline Hughes, a representative from Goshen United for Public Safety said. "Del-Chesco United intends to use this temporary halt to continue to call for the Mariner East risk assessment which Gov. Wolf should have undertaken from the beginning."
Other grassroots activists have staged tree sits and other protests to halt Mariner East II's construction at a Camp White Pine in Huntington County. Elise Gerhart and her mother Ellen, a retired public school teacher, have said the company attempted to illegally cut trees on their land to clear the pipeline's path.
"I'm very skeptical that the governor's office is taking people's concerns seriously," Elise told NPR's State Impact after Wednesday's order. "I really believe that the governor wants to push this project through."
Given the company's record, she questioned whether Sunoco would adequately follow the DEP order's new requirements. "We have to go out there and see what they're doing and report it," she said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.
gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images
Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.
The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
'We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,' Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland
By Johnny Wood
The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.
The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.
Here are some of the challenges the river faces.
By Jake Johnson
As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.