GUEST POST by David E. Hess / PA Environment Digest Blog / August 5, 2022
On August 5, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Sunoco Pipeline L.P., and ETC Northeast Pipeline LLC (ETC), both subsidiaries of Energy Transfer, L.P. (Energy Transfer), were convicted of criminal charges related to their conduct during the construction of two major pipelines in Pennsylvania.
Mariner East 2 Pipeline, which crosses 17 counties in the southern tier of Pennsylvania, and Revolution Pipeline, a 42.5 mile pipeline that starts in Butler County, and is routed through Beaver and Allegheny counties, and connects to a natural gas processing plant in Washington County.
As part of the agreement, Energy Transfer will pay for independent evaluations of potential water quality impacts for homeowners from the construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline and offer approved mechanisms for restoring or replacing the impacted private water supplies.
An independent, professional geologist will review water testing and advise on water quality and impact.
Residents who believe the Mariner East Pipeline has affected their water supplies, who may have misplaced a letter sent to them by the Office of Attorney General, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-904-2643 to sign up for water testing.
The deadline is August 19.
Energy Transfer will also pay $10 million towards projects that improve the health and safety of water sources along the routes of the pipelines.
The Office of Attorney General will be releasing procedures soon to watershed associations, conservation groups, Trout Unlimited Chapters and others to apply for funding under the $10 million made available under the plea agreement.
“We have a constitutional right in Pennsylvania to clean air and pure water,” said AG Shapiro. “It’s a right that was enshrined in our state constitution at a time when the people of Pennsylvania learned a tough lesson first-hand — the health of our children, and our economic future, depended on protecting our environment from reckless profit and unchecked corporate interests. Today we’re upholding our oath to our constitution and holding Energy Transfer accountable for their crimes against our natural resources.”
Following an investigation by the Office of Attorney General Environmental Crimes Section and recommendations from the 45th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, Sunoco Pipeline L.P. was charged with 48 counts of environmental crimes for their conduct during the construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline which carries hazardous natural gas liquids. [Read more here.]
The Grand Jury learned that at many of the locations during the construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline, Sunoco Pipeline L.P. repeatedly allowed thousands of gallons of drilling fluid to escape underground, which sometimes surfaced in fields, backyards, streams, lakes and wetlands.
The company then failed to report the losses of fluid to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) numerous times, in spite of the legal requirement to do so.
The Grand Jury found that there were multiple drill locations where the drilling fluid contained unapproved additives that entered the waters of the Commonwealth — potentially impacting the drinking water of Pennsylvanians who rely on water wells.
In August 2020, early estimates said that 8,100 gallons of fluid spilled into Marsh Creek Lake in Chester County from an unintentional release. [Read more here.]
“This has been a long time coming. My husband and I have suffered due to the contamination of our water by this pipeline construction. Water is the most important thing to a homeowner and when they began drilling, our only ask was to promise we would continue to have clean water. Five years later, we still have a water buffalo on our property – forcing us to carry buckets of water into our home, to our gardens, and to our horses– multiple times a day. As a retired couple, we never expected to be spending our time and energy carting around water because a company destroyed our supply. Our hope is that this plea will finally get us the permanent solution to our water woes. If this plea could restore our clean water supply, it would be a step in the right direction — this is all we have ever wanted,” said homeowner Alice Mioduski of New Alexandria, PA.
In the case of Revolution Pipeline, jurors from the 46th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury reviewed evidence that ETC Northeast Pipeline LLC (ETC), a subsidiary of Energy Transfer, repeatedly ignored environmental protocols and custom plans that were created to minimize erosion and the possibility of a landslide at the site, which they were restoring to its pre-construction appearance. [Read more here.]
The grand jurors learned that the lack of erosion control devices contributed to two landslides, one of which contributed to a section of the pipeline that had been insufficiently embedded into the bedrock of the site to separate from the rest of the line.
Natural gas escaped from the pipeline, causing a devastating explosion.
Residents had to evacuate their homes as their barns, vehicles, and homes burned, and over two acres of mature trees burned into piles of ash. ETC was charged with nine counts of environmental crimes related to their conduct during the construction of the Revolution Pipeline.
“The plea agreement entered into today by Energy Transfer is a huge win for the people of Delaware County. I want to thank Attorney General Shapiro for leading this joint investigation and his tireless efforts to bring this powerful corporation to justice for the damage it did to our communities, our residents and our environment,” said Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.
The Delaware County District Attorney’s office was the first to refer the Mariner East 2 Pipeline investigation to the Office of Attorney General and assigned a prosecutor from their Environmental Crimes Unit to work on this case.
Sunoco Pipeline L.P pleaded no contest to 14 counts of Clean Streams violations for its criminal conduct related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline.
ETC Northeast Pipeline LLC pleaded no contest to 9 counts of Clean Streams violations for its criminal conduct related to the construction of the Revolution Pipeline.
These cases are being prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Franz and Senior Deputy Attorney General Courtney Butterfield.
Under Attorney General Shapiro’s leadership, the Office of Attorney General Environmental Crimes Section has charged over 20 companies and 29 individuals.
Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Clean Air Council Executive Director and Chief Counsel, issued the following statement on the conviction–
“After many years of deceiving the public, Energy Transfer is finally being brought to justice for criminal conduct. A pipeline that has had so many criminal violations of the law should not even be allowed to operate. And while today’s settlement cannot address all of the many harms of this pipeline, it offers a meaningful remedy for polluted well water and damaged watersheds. It is imperative that neighbors with impacted wells reach out to the Attorney General’s office right away to get their water tested.”
Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania Executive Director Molly Parzen issued the following statement on the announcement–
“We applaud Attorney General Josh Shapiro for holding big corporations accountable when they pollute our water. This conviction demonstrates to bad actors across the state that we will stand up to those who put profits before people.
“The free access to independent water testing for residents paired with the $10 million fine to support conservation, one of the largest in Pennsylvania history, is a tremendous step forward in helping Pennsylvanians whose water supplies and public health have been impacted.
“Pennsylvanians are guaranteed a constitutional right to clean air and pure water. This historic conviction puts big polluters on notice that future violators will be held accountable”
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