State Senator Andy Dinniman hosted a community meeting on Sunday, March 4 in West Whiteland township to discuss recent issues with Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East project.
One of the main concerns brought up amongst community members was the increasing number of sinkholes opening near homes in Chester County. Prior to the meeting taking place, an additional second and third sinkhole, also called inadvertent returns, opened up in West Whiteland township due to Sunoco’s drilling methods.
The Mariner East Pipeline project consists of the ME1 pipeline, 85 years of age, the ME2 pipeline, under construction and the ME2X pipeline, currently being planned and already approved. All three will be transporting natural gas liquids including ethane, butane and propane and run alongside one another.
After hearing about the opening of more sinkholes, member of Del-Chesco United for Public Safety Caroline Hughes and others made their way to Lisa Drive to see the damage for themselves. Hughes told the attendees of the meeting that one of the sinkholes appeared to be 55 cubic feet and was right next to the home’s deck. She also explained that as her group stood near the home, eight cement trucks made their way down the street and proceeded to pour cement directly into the sinkhole.
“The thought of cement going around an 85-year-old pipe does not seem like the answer,” said Hughes, referring to ME1. She added that the homeowners were evacuated after only living in there for six months.
While raising her concerns, Hughes held pictures of the damaged Lisa Drive properties. “We’d like to know who is responsible for overseeing this quick-thinking action by Sunoco, which I believe puts us at greater danger,” said Hughes.
According to Sunoco Communications Manager Jeff Shields, the material poured into the sinkholes is an “excavatable, DEP-approved fill material that is softer than cement.”
Attendees of the meeting were concerned and wanted answers about this controversial project. They hung signs with statements such as “Sunoco, take your pipelines and go home!,” “Pipelines leak and so will the TRUTH,” “High pressure HVL [highly volatile liquids] pipelines do not belong near children for overseas plastic production,” “#suNOco” and “#whereiswolf.”
According to Shields, “The subsidence features that have occurred in the Sunoco right-of-way behind Lisa Drive appear to be related to the level of rainfall that occurred during our construction at these locations. No liquid was spilled; the issue was movement of naturally occurring earth materials in the area.”
Another concern brought to the meeting was the project’s lack of oversight by Governor Wolf and government regulatory agencies. Even though Sunoco holds a public utility status, the Public Utility Commision has not yet conducted a risk assessment of the Mariner East Project.
According to their mission statement, the PUC aims to ensure “safe and reliable utility service” and to protect “the public interest.” However, according to Sen. Dinniman, “they don’t have the personnel or staff to do this and so now it’s back in the governor’s court and we’ll have to see if he’s willing to take action with this.”
Dinniman also questions the validity of Sunoco’s public utility status: “The PUC, based on a 1920s letter of conveyance, continued to grant public utility status to this company not only for the original pipeline but for Mariner 2 and 3.”
“As soon as the company got eminent domain as a public utility, you [township supervisors] have no control, you have no rights, no power to respond to your own citizens,” said Dinniman.
Sunoco remains with its public utility status even though there has been a substantial growth in population, almost 100 years have passed and two additional pipeline construction plans have been added to the original.
Besides, according to Dinniman, Sunoco’s goal is to export these products to Europe and profit from it. These products will be “sent overseas to be made into polymers and other types of plastic products,” said Dinniman. “If Pennsylvanians are not reaping any benefits, Sunoco should not be granted public utility status,” explained Dinniman.
Sunoco’s spokesperson Jeff Shields said in response, “We don’t determine how much is used domestically and how much is exported. That is up to our customers and can fluctuate month-to-month based on the market. Customer information is not something that we share.”
Following the opening of the sinkholes and geologic stability concerns generated from ME2 drilling, the Public Utility Commission issued an Emergency Order on March 7 to shutdown ME1.
The PUC ordered “Sunoco Pipeline L.P., also known as Energy Transfer Partners (Sunoco), to suspend operations of the Mariner East 1 Pipeline (ME1) and require additional testing and analysis on that line in response to safety concerns regarding the integrity of that pipeline.”
According to the PUC, Emergency Orders are issued “when there exists a clear and present danger to life or property or when the relief requested is uncontested and action is required prior to the next scheduled public meeting.”
Erin McFeeters is a senior communication studies major with a minor in journalism. ✉ EM857951@wcupa.edu.
Kelly Witman is a senior English major with minors in linguistics and journalism. ✉ KW860698@wcupa.edu.