Monday, January 21, 2019

PUC Directs Sunoco Not To Resume Operation Of Mariner East 1 Pipeline Until The Sinkhole Is Fixed, And Testing Shows It Is Safe To Operate

On January 21, the Public Utility Commission's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement directed Sunoco Pipeline LP to fix the sinkhole threatening the stability of the Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids pipeline in Chester County and not resume operations before geophysical testing shows the pipeline is safe to operate.
The sinkhole opened around the Mariner East 1 Pipeline on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, the site of previous sinkholes affecting the Mariner East Pipelines.
Specifically, the Bureau directed Sunoco to take the following actions--
-- SPLP has “shut down” this section of ME1, meaning no product is flowing in this portion of the line;
-- SPLP will introduce flowable fill into the subsidence feature as an immediate and temporary fix to assist in the stability of the pipeline;
-- SPLP will purge the product from the shutdown portion of ME1 and it will remain purged of product for the duration of I&E’s investigation of this incident;
-- SPLP will perform geophysical testing in the vicinity of this subsidence feature in cooperation with I&E’s safety engineers and I&E’s geophysical consultant; and,
-- SPLP will not resume the transportation of product through this section of ME1 until approval is received from I&E.
The PUC also provided this timeline on the sinkhole incident
On January 20, 2019, at approximately 4:40 p.m., the PUC’s Pipeline Safety Division was notified by Sunoco Pipeline LP, a/k/a Energy Transfer Partners (SPLP), that a new subsidence feature had formed near Lisa Drive, in Chester County, exposing the ME1 pipeline.
I&E immediately dispatched a safety engineer to the site. I&E’s geophysical consultant, ARM, was also asked to send a representative to the site.
To ensure public safety, at approximately 6:30 pm on January 20, 2019, I&E proposed to SPLP that this section of the ME1 pipeline be shut down pending further investigation. At approximately 7:30 p.m. on January 20, 2019, SPLP initiated the stoppage of product transportation through this section of ME1.
The shutdown was completed at approximately 12:06 a.m. on January 21, 2019. As a result of this shutdown, there is no product flowing through an approximately 7-mile long section of pipeline, between valves located at Boot and Exton, both in Chester County.
I&E has remained engaged in this matter and in constant contact with SPLP personnel since first being notified of the incident.
The shutdown was completed at approximately 12:06 a.m. on January 21, 2019. As a result of this shutdown, there is no product flowing through an approximately 7-mile long section of pipeline, between valves located at Boot and Exton, both in Chester County.
I&E has remained engaged in this matter and in constant contact with SPLP personnel since first being notified of the incident.
As the independent investigation and enforcement bureau of the PUC, I&E has the authority to bring enforcement action, seek emergency orders from the Commission or take other steps to ensure public safety, should circumstances change or based on the finding of the investigation.
The Del-Chesco United For Pipeline Safety citizen group reported the sinkhole incident on its Facebook page (photo).
DEP said Monday the PUC is the lead agency in Sunday’s sinkhole incident.
In March 2018, the PUC issued an emergency order to shutdown the Mariner East 1 Pipeline after similar sinkholes exposed the pipeline in the Lisa Drive area.
In May, the PUC allowed the restart of the pipeline after Sunoco fixed the sinkholes and completed other work required under the agency’s emergency shutdown order.
In August, DEP allowed the restart of the related Mariner East 2 Pipeline construction in West Whiteland Township after revising it Chapter 102 and 105 permits to deal with water and sinkhole related issues.
In December, the PUC’s Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement proposed a $225,000 penalty for violations of federal pipeline safety regulations resulting from an April 1, 2017 leak of 840 gallons of ethane and propane from the Mariner East 1 Pipeline near Morgantown in Berks County.
Also In December the Chester County District Attorney opened a criminal investigation into the Mariner East Pipelines.
Just last Thursday, the PUC rejected a request to have the Mariner East Pipelines shut down until compliance, safety and other issues raised by residents in Chester and Delaware counties could be heard by a PUC administrative law judge. The underlying case is continuing.
Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) said in a statement Monday, "I urge the PUC to shut down the M1 pipeline by Emergency Order immediately and keep it down as long as it takes to ensure the public is safe.  
"In addition to concerns raised by yesterday's and previous sinkholes in the Lisa Drive neighborhood, a 2017 leak caused by corrosion of this same aging pipeline in Morgantown led the PUC's BIE to recommend that Sunoco conduct a "remaining life study" of this 1931 pipeline and consider a plan to retire it.
"In my opinion it would be prudent for the PUC to require this study be completed and reviewed by independent experts prior to any consideration of restarting this pipeline."
Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) said in a statement, "Remember, this is the same pipeline, in the same area that I asked the PUC to shut down due to safety concerns over the summer. Their own administrative law judge (Elizabeth Barnes) agreed, writing in her opinion and order, ‘I believe given the release and accident history of Sunoco, there is a grave risk to the rupture of Mariner East 1 (ME1) . . .”
“Yet, a month later, in June, the full PUC voted 3-2 in a split decision to allow ME1 to resume operation. In that opinion and order, the PUC asserted, ‘While the record contains accounts of Sunoco’s mishaps in other jurisdictions and other pipelines, there is no new, credible evidence to support a finding that the continued operation of ME1 poses a clear and present danger to life or property in West Whiteland Township.’
“It’s also important to note that, the PUC took the testimony and report of Sunoco’s own geological expert at face value in making that statement and allowing ME1 to resume operation.
“Now, ME1 is again exposed due to a sinkhole on Lisa Drive and it is most certainly a very real and very significant potential safety threat. To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
“Last night, as I met with residents on Lisa Drive to see the site of the latest sinkhole for myself, I couldn’t help but wonder how we could have any confidence whatsoever left in the PUC when it comes to the safety of this pipeline. The fact that they overturned their own judge’s decision and allowed its operation to continue has eroded any lingering hope or faith that they will protect the public. To say we’re disappointed, disillusioned, disheartened, and downright angry at both the PUC and Sunoco is a gross understatement.
“How many more sinkholes and exposed pipelines will there be? How many times will the safety of our residents and communities be jeopardized before we pull the plug on this project? And how many times is this company is going to be permitted to risk a potentially life-threatening catastrophe before something goes seriously and tragically wrong? In fact, Mariner East passes more than 40 schools – many of them in Chester County – within its blast zone.
“Although Sunoco had no choice but to shut down ME1, one wonders if there is still product in the line. And all the while, Sunoco continues to operate the antiquated 12-inch line in the same area.
“Clearly, the PUC process is broken when it comes to pipeline safety. We said from day one that this is a geologically questionable area where pipelines shouldn’t be placed. And it seems like sinkholes and other issues are frequently exacerbated by severe weather and significant precipitation.
“The entire Mariner East project should be shut down until a review independent of Sunoco and PUC has been completed. The PUC process itself is in dire need of reexamination and revamping. And we must pass strong pipeline safety legislation now. Currently, there is no real, meaningful and effective pipeline regulatory process in the Commonwealth.
“Pennsylvania has already seen a pipeline rupture in rural Beaver County. I don’t want to see one here in suburban Chester County where pipelines are mere feet from homes, parks, schools, shopping centers, rail lines, and major thoroughfares.”
(Photo: Eric Friedman, Hanover Homeowners’ Association, Chester County.)

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