Tuesday, April 13, 2021

PUC Judge’s Opinion Orders Sunoco To Improve Public Safety, Emergency Outreach Measures, Rebury Pipelines Related To Mariner East Pipeline Project, Full PUC Approval Needed

On April 12, 
an opinion and order by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes of the Public Utility Commission was released finding that Sunoco Pipeline violated several state and federal laws in its construction and operation of the Mariner East pipelines. 

Judge Barnes ordered that Sunoco (a subsidiary of Energy Transfer) pay a $2,000 fine and ordered that it undertake additional public safety measures and outreach, including burying its pipelines deep enough and ensuring that they are far enough away from other pipelines. 

She emphasized in particular the need for Sunoco to improve coordination and information sharing with school districts positioned close to the pipelines, which are grappling with protecting the lives of thousands of students.

The order was handed down in Flynn et al. v. Sunoco Pipeline L.P., which is also known as the “Safety 7” case, referring to the seven residents of Delaware and Chester Counties who brought the case. 

The PUC consolidated the case with similar cases brought by local governmental authorities and other individuals in the two counties. 

The judge had earlier ruled that the scope of the case was limited to those two counties, and so the ruling may only cover the portions of the pipelines in those counties. 

The Clean Air Council is an intervenor in this case through the consolidation of those dockets, and played an active role in the final hearing.

Judge Barnes did not grant the request of some complainants for a halt to operation of the Mariner East pipelines, nor the request for additional integrity testing of the repurposed 12-inch pipeline that has been incorporated into the Mariner East system. 

Other requests that the Judge did not grant were instead referred to another arm of the PUC that is currently reviewing how best to change and update pipeline safety regulations. 

The full list of broken laws is those at: 49 CFR 195.440; 49 CFR 195.210; 49 CFR 195.248; 66 Pa. C.S. § 3301(c); 49 U.S.C.A. § 60118(a); 52 Pa.Code § 69.1201; 66 Pa.C.S. § 1501; and 52 Pa.Code § 59.33.

“This PUC ruling will go a long way toward fixing some blatant problems with how Sunoco has barrelled through our communities,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. “At the same time, the testimony in this case casts further doubt on the safety of the operating Mariner East lines, and made clear the PUC has more work to do to address the public’s serious concerns. We will not waver in our call for them to be shut down once and for all. In the meantime, the fixes that the Judge ordered should be applied across the state.”

Click Here for a copy of the initial decision by Judge Barnes.

Yesterday’s opinion is known as an “Initial Decision,” and was filed under PUC docket numbers C-2018-3006116, P-2018-3006117, C-2018-3003605, C-2018-3005025, C-2018-3006898, and C-2018-3006905. 

Under the PUC’s procedure, the opinion and order will later be finalized and possibly changed by vote of the PUC Commissioners.

[Posted: April 13, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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