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The ongoing conflict with Mariner East Pipeline construction

Photo by SamHolt6 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Mariner East 2 pipeline, cancelled last year over a series of spills, leaks, sinkholes, and construction incidents, has resumed construction as of April 22nd. Sunoco’s planned expansion would follow the path of the original Mariner East pipeline, which finished construction in 2014. Sunoco says the local area stands to profit heavily from the job opportunities the construction provides and the approximately 275,000 barrels of natural gas liquids a day that the pipe could transport. Yet, many residents worry about the pipe’s effect on the drinking water, soil quality, and general safety of their communities.

These residents include the students and citizens of West Chester, which stands only a few miles from the pipeline. A section currently under construction extends along Chester Road and Middletown Road, intersecting West Chester Pike just to the northwest of the town.

Of the 350 miles the pipeline will cover, almost 24 miles of pipe are currently being constructed in Chester County. Those in opposition to the pipe’s expansion cite a number of incidents involving both Mariner East’s accident-ridden history and Sunoco’s record of spills and controversial operating procedures. The initial order to suspend construction in January of 2018 was accompanied by $12.6 million in fines from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for improper drilling mud disposal. A month later, four residents of West Goshen Township filed suits against Sunoco for building too close to their properties, posing a serious health risk if the pipes should burst or leak. The claims were rejected due to Sunoco’s status as a public utility.

West Chester, while slightly out of the high-risk zone should the pipeline explode or rupture, sits in the same watershed that the pipeline crosses. Should the pipeline leak or spill, it could contaminate water sources across the Chester Creek watershed that services West Chester University and the surrounding borough. Those opposed to the pipeline see particular risk in the section of Mariner East 2 comprised of repurposed pipeline from a system that leaked hazardous materials into a Delaware County creek last June.

In March of 2018, Chester County found itself at the center of a campaign to shut down construction of the pipeline, as State Senator Andrew Dinniman filed an emergency petition to halt construction due to the threat of land instability. This petition followed an incident in March, where sinkholes appeared at a construction site behind houses in West Whiteland Township, a site only four miles from West Chester University. Senator Dinniman, whose office is only a few blocks from the university, has been at odds with Sunoco since the expansion was proposed in November of 2014. “I have a duty to represent my constituents and their very real and very serious concerns about Mariner East,” he said in a May hearing before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. Senator Dinniman did not respond to a request for comment on the continuation of construction near West Chester.

The rash of incidents did not slow following the court order. In the few months following the Public Utility Commission’s decision to partially overturn the suspension on ME1 and ME2’s construction, the company came under fire for withholding safety information, creating mistrust between members of the opposition, going against safety codes, and repurposing old sections of pipe that had previously broken and leaked. In one notable case, a water main contractor struck a pipe in Delaware County that Sunoco had falsely reported as buried three  feet deeper than it actually was. Had the pipe been transporting natural gas, the resulting explosion could have devastated the area, which included an elementary school and several houses. A later study by the Delaware County Council found that an event like this, while very unlikely, could kill everyone within a mile radius of the blast and release a cloud of flammable vapor into the surrounding area.

This is not the first of Sunoco’s pipelines to see resistance from locals; the company also owns, among others, the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was protested heavily in 2016-2017. Sunoco has one of the worst records of spills and accidents among major fuel production and transport companies worldwide. Construction on the Mariner East 2 Pipeline, originally slated to finish in September of 2018, is continuing as of the publication of this article.

Brendan Lordan is a third-year student majoring in English writing.

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