Thursday, December 22, 2022

Oil & Gas Industry Impacts: Navy Veterans Patrick & Helen Robinson Relate Their 7-Year Struggle Dealing With Impacts Of Mariner East Pipeline Construction In Indiana County, And They Continue

In 2015, Sunoco Pipeline LP started work on the Mariner East Pipelines on the Indiana County property owned by Navy veterans Patrick and Helen Robinson, and their lives have not been the same since.  

The Robinsons own about 9.8 acres of property along Hutchison Hollow Road in East Wheatfield Township where they have their home and a business building in a small valley along an ephemeral stream designated a trout feeder stream.

            The pipeline right-of-way cuts their property in half on the north side of the property.  The pipeline goes down one side of the hill to the stream, crosses, and heads up the other side of the valley. The Robinson’s property is located in the valley between these slopes. 

There are two 90-degree turns just east of entering their property with two more 90 degrees turns to the west on their property in the pipeline’s path.

The business building is about 110 feet down gradient from the Mariner East Pipeline right-of-way and about 460 feet from the front door of the Robinson’s home.  

The buildings are well within the 1,000 foot “public awareness zone” required by the Public Utility Commission to notify property owners of the dangers of pipeline leaks, explosions and emergencies.  [Read more here.]

The Robinsons get water for their home from a well that comes from the shallower of two aquifers on their property.  They also have a well at their business that goes to a deeper aquifer that is influenced by an abandoned underground coal mine pool which limits where they can pull water.

Patrick served in the Navy as a Machinery Repairman making parts for nuclear reactors and also trained on hydraulics, dealing with contaminants and radiologic controls.

After the Navy, he worked for the oil and gas services company Halliburton, on shale gas fracking crews in Pennsylvania, a Maryland environmental assessment drilling company putting together recovery systems for gasoline and other spills, a pipeline construction company and a variety of other jobs, including his own trucking business.

"I've worked a whole bunch of places," said Patrick.  "Unfortunately, if you lived here in the eighties and nineties, then you know what life was all about.  And you're scrambling all the time just to get work."

Helen is also a Navy veteran and served as a Cryptologic Technician and has a full-time job along with a quilting and card-making business.

Together, they try to make ends meet and handle all the extra costs resulting from the pipeline work on their property.

Work Begins

Sunoco started work on the Robinson’s property in 2015, after signing a lease allowing the use of their property as a staging area for pipeline construction and covering the construction on their property.

“If you didn't sign a lease or anything with them, they just took what they wanted [by eminent domain]. And that's always been the fight here,” said Patrick.  “Originally, they wanted to go on the south side. The south side would've taken my shop, driveway and everything.

“So I had two choices. I could either sign the lease, which I did, for them to go on the northern side,” explained Patrick.  “Or they would pull eminent domain and take what they wanted, which would then even ruin any chance of me having a usable piece of property even more.”

In 2016, Sunoco started building a 17-foot high ramp to access the right-of-way and prepping the property for construction.

“They were supposed to be in and out,” said Patrick.  “We’re now six plus years into something that was supposed to be a one-year deal.  I never signed up for anything to be here, to have their equipment on my property for four and a half years.”

“We Lost Water”

In late 2017, Sunoco started digging the trenches to lay the new 16-inch, and 20-inch Mariner East natural gas liquids pipelines uphill from the Robinson’s home and business.

They came through and dug for the first new pipeline, then came back and dug for the second.

“It affected our well within 24 hours,” said Patrick. “Within 24 hours of them digging from the creek to the road. When they cut from the creek to Hutchison Hollow Road, when they open cut that is when our well went.”

“Now, 14 years living here and having tractor trailers and everything else and washing and kids and washing clothes and everything under the sun, I never had the well go dry,” said Patrick.  “All of a sudden they do an open cut upstream of me, and the next thing you know is within a day, our well not only goes belly up, but our water starts looking like a brown, gray mud. Now, okay. That's just too much coincidence to start with.”

“This is all spring water. A lot of our water is actually fed by the spring water here,” explained Patrick.  “So even though I have a deep well, my deep well does get water in from the surface.”

“I was a Boy Scout leader and we used to have our water tested, our drinking water in the house. I had Culligan out here a couple times when we first bought the house and then afterwards, testing the water,” said Patrick.  “There was nothing in the water at that time.”

“We burned up two pumps within two and a half months due to all the [grit and dirt].  We went from going through filters every three months, changing them on a regular maintenance, to the point where we couldn't even run without plugging it within an hour or two,” said Patrick.  “Many issues with piping in the house and everything because everything came through. We got issues with the black mold and mold in the washer, in the faucets, the sinks, the commodes. Now once again, 14 years prior, we've lived here, never had an issue. Drank the water.”

Click Here for 2018 water well sample results by Sunoco consultant.

Patrick said he approached the company about providing them water and fixing the well.  He said the company response was--  “‘We'll give you a water buffalo, if you sign this piece of paper saying that we didn't cause any issues.’" 

“They wanted me to sign a piece of paper saying that they didn't cause any issues. That they didn't cause it. And I refused to sign the paper and they told me to pound sand, but their words were different than that.”

“So I put in pumps myself, I paid out the pocket for that. We had to go to commercial, a larger commercial pump, in the well to handle the increased turbidity and stuff. That was all on my own. And we've been buying drinking water ever since.”

“And my neighbor, she's an old woman, the exact same thing that happened at my house happened to her at the exact same time, except for she's 79-years-old and she's afraid to do anything with anybody. She's afraid that Sunoco's going to come and do mean things to her. She's an old woman.”

After four years, the Robinson’s water is just now starting to get better, but only because they aren’t doing any more construction at the moment in the pipeline right-of-way. 

“Big Underground Tank”

Patrick believes one of the reasons for his water well problems, flooding and fundamental changes in the way water flows on his property is because of the way they dug and refilled the trench used to bury the two new Mariner East Pipelines uphill from his home and business.

He said Sunoco opened a trench down one hill, across the road and the creek and up the hill on the other side, instead of using horizontal drilling.

"It was supposed to be bored [horizontal drilling], they would've walked the pipe underneath [the road and the creek]," said Patrick.  "But it was taking too long, so they decided to open cut it.

"When you put in a pipeline [trench], you're supposed to pull up the soils and you're not supposed to mix the soils going back in. So when they dug the pipe [trench], they actually mixed the clay with the pea gravel with the top [soil]. 

"What that did is basically made a dam.  It wouldn't let water then travel. It wouldn't let water progress underneath through the pea gravel layer to drain into the basin."

In addition, Patrick said DEP required Sunoco to put in a foam plug on either side of the stream where the pipe crossed the stream stopping water from draining down the hills into the stream.

“They [also] refuse to deepen the channel, they will not touch that channel to make it any deeper [to accommodate the new drainage changes],” said Patrick.

“So what happened is the water sits there. Due to the mixture of the soil, it can't drain off to the south, which is the natural flow of the water down to the basin,” said Patrick.  “And due to the foam plug, it can't reach the creek unless it comes to the surface. So you have thousands and thousands of gallons of water stuck underneath the ground there with no place to go.”

“It sits there like a big underground tank,” said Patrick. 

“They [also] came in and they took 60-some truckloads of dirt out of here and hauled to a farmer up the road and dumped it [in a ravine],” said Patrick.

In addition to impacts to the Robinson’s water well, the changes to the water flows made by Sunoco on the property caused flooding and wetlands to form.

"So the water channel isn’t deep enough to handle the rainfall, so that's what's causing it to flood over onto the property every time we get heavy rains, which never happened before,” said Patrick.

On January 25, 2021, Patrick sent a 25-page letter to the Department of Environmental Protection laying out the unresolved issues related to drainage on his property and Sunoco’s lack of compliance with its Chapter 102 Erosion and Sedimentation Control permit.

In 2019, a contractor hired by Sunoco to do seeding and restoration work didn’t get paid by Sunoco so the contractor put a $680,000 mechanics lien on Robinson’s property to try to recover payment, even though the Robinsons had nothing to do with the contract.

Patrick said he had to hire an attorney to get the lien removed.

This was a frequent tactic by contractors that didn’t get paid by Sunoco and other pipeline companies.  [Read more here (Sunoco).  Read more here (Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline).]

Land Slips

Because of the methods used to bury the Mariner East Pipelines, Sunoco is having problems with land slips on both hillsides leading down to the stream on the Robinson’s property.

“Here's the gist of it,” said Patrick. They went over top the springs and they basically disturbed the ground. And whenever the springs get active again, the ground gets loose and wet and gravity causes it to move.”

Patrick said there have been at least six land slips they’ve had to come back and try to fix so far, “they actually had to deal with one of the bigger ones three times.”

“When the ground moves, it pushes the pipe one way or the other. And what's got me worried so bad," said Patrick.  "I'm in the valley, so when it [pipeline] comes off at both sides of the hill, there's basically a U it comes into. And due to vibrations and pressure movements, and it's not put in the ground at the proper level you have the upheaval of freezing and thawing, combined with the movement slips and the weight of the pipe itself. 

"And yeah, there is a potential to be a real big issue on my property because of the way the [pipeline was constructed] and just me being in the valley."

“We'll find out come February, March again whether their fix worked, because like I said, they came in I think it was May and fixed them again,” said Patrick. 

[Note: In 2020, the Department of Environmental Protection issued a $30.6 million penalty to ETC Northeast Pipeline whose parent company-- Energy Transfer Partners is the same as Sunoco Pipeline LP-- for an explosion caused by land slips along the route of the brand new Revolution natural gas pipeline in Beaver County.  Read more here.]

 Not Deep Enough

Patrick said at several points as the Mariner East Pipeline crosses his property, the pipeline is not buried deep enough.  He pointed to the road and stream crossings as examples.

“When they put the pipe in, they dug across the road, they had a cave in. They had the 20-inch pipeline laid in, then they had a cave in. They laid the 16-inch pipeline on top of the cave in, which I have photographs of that, showing that that pipe's laid on top of that rock,” said Patrick.  “And she comes up shallow.” 

“According to them [Sunoco], they say it's deep enough, but like I said, you go out there when it's got snowfall and the road's melted for a four foot area at that ditch right above where that pipe goes over top of that rock. And you don't get melt off heat if it's in deep enough. You know what I'm saying?”

“According to DEP, according to the permits, the pipe's supposed to be five feet underneath the water channel. From the photographs that I have when they were installing it, the pipe does not appear to be five feet underneath the water channel,” said Patrick.  “It seems to be put in a little shallow. And to me that's an issue, especially in the basin, where of all places it should be, it should have been deeper when it went underneath a creek.

“But the problem is, once again, when we discussed the water channel, the water channel isn’t deep enough, and that's what's causing the wetlands to form up on my property. That's what's causing the flooding on my property,” said Patrick.

Patrick noted the original pipeline on the right-of-way-- ME1-- put in in the 1930’s is just two and a half feet below ground level on his property.  

At one point, a photograph taken by Patrick shows the new 16-inch and 20-inch Mariner East Pipelines being buried in a trench below the ME1 pipeline.

“It's [ME1] still shallow in two places that I know about,” said Patrick.  “And what's really funny is according to the land lease, I'm supposed to be able to plow and plant ground and stuff above those pipelines. And you can't run anything across with only two feet underneath the ground without catching it.”

Iron Eating Bacteria

Patrick has also observed the characteristic orange residue of iron eating bacteria (a.k.a. “Microbial Corrosion”) in and around the pipeline route since it was buried that he believes presents a long-term threat to the pipelines.

How does he know?  Based on his work experience with pipelines and the fact Sunoco wants to install anode protection on his property for the ME1 pipeline.

"Iron eating bacteria is basically what it is. It's a bacteria that attacks iron," said Patrick.  "A lot of people make the mistake and think that [the orange sheen is] a petroleum leak."

"The way to tell the difference is if you throw a rock into it, if it's an iron eating bacteria it'll break up geometrically. It'll break geometric, kind of how ice fractures on the top of the water. If it was a petroleum, it would actually go out and come back around and it'd coat it."

“Whenever you give it a source of food, which would be the water coming down the pipeline, that's nutrients,” said Patrick. “Because the pipeline is [now] like a French drain on both [hillsides] now. It's actually collecting all the water, nutrients from the top of the hill from the east and the top of the hill from the west. And it's coming down, it's draining into the creek.” 

"ME1's had a problem with coating on it. ME1 was scheduled to be dug up on my property," said Patrick. "The coating on ME1 has broken down and they were trying to figure out a way to stop it from deteriorating.”  

"They wanted to drill a hole and they wanted to put in anode protection to stop the pipe from being destroyed," explained Patrick. "Basically they would put an anode down in the ground next to the pipeline [and a zinc block]. They'd put an electrical charge to it and the bacteria would go and they would eat away at that sacrificial block, which would have to be replaced every so often." 

“They wanted to drill a well on my property and do that,” said Patrick. “​​They wanted to do it [a 100-year lease] for a $1,000 in the middle of my driveway up there in the middle of my parking lot.  

“And honestly, I don't.  They wanted to go 300 feet [deep] on my property with a well, which would've put them through not only the first aquifer, but the second aquifer. And not only that, where they wanted to put it was right above the [abandoned] coal mine.”

  Patrick noted, when you add the land slips, iron eating bacteria, putting one of the new Mariner East Pipeline on rocks causing a rub point, the U-shaped route of the pipeline and the 90-degree turns-- how they constructed the pipeline is a problem.

“So yeah, to me, I've seen a lot of things when they laid this, it was like, ‘Oh wow, these are issues down the road,’” said Patrick.  “I didn't go to college for it and I’m no engineer and I’m not pretending to be an engineer. I, just from life experience, know, these are going to be issues.”

Patrick says again he lives well within the “blast zone” of a leak or explosion of the pipeline.

All I Ever Wanted Was Clean Drinking Water

When asked where he goes from here to get resolution of these issues, Patrick said--

“All I ever wanted was clean drinking water, which I had before this started. And all I ever wanted is my land to return back to, not exact, but at least something that we could live with in between.”

“Well, it could have been real easy. All they could have done was they could have come in and said, ‘Oh, you know what? Yeah, we destroyed your water. Let us try to figure out a way to correct it. Maybe put in a water system to help make clean drinking water.’”

“Done remediation on the pipeline, saying, ‘Yeah, you know what? Why don't we come to a compromise here? We know we did this. Why don't we just sit down and figure out a good compromise? And that way we can both live with it.’ That would've been easy.”

“That's all I ever wanted. All I wanted was some decent, clean drinking water. 

“But it's come to the point now that I really don't care anymore, because you know what? Bacteria got into my leg, they had to take it. Bacteria got into my left foot, they had to take it.

“I sit here every day and I look down and I don't have my right leg anymore. I don't have my left foot anymore. And I grant you, my right leg did have metal in it from the military, yes. 

“But I don't go swimming out in Yellow Creek or any place like that due to I don't want to get bacteria. 

“I never knew that my own house water had bacteria until after I got an infection and they did a test. 

“I don't have the means to go live someplace else. I didn't have any of those means.”

“And of course no lawyer wants to get involved because it's just too big, too complicated or it isn’t a quick dime.”

“Well, you know what? I don't have that much more time on this earth, so there's only a couple things I need to complete. 

“I mean, they took the value of my property away, so I went from having a nice 9.8 acres of commercial ground plus a house it sat on a couple acres to basically it’s not worth even the money that I paid for it 20 years ago.”


(Written by David Hess, former DEP Secretary.  Comments should be sent to: 

(Photos: Top- example of landscape not returned to original grade; Snow melting on road where Pipelines cross; Patrick & Helen Robinson; Middle- flooding off the right-of-way; trench filling with water from springs (note pump); home drinking water; Bottom-  new Mariner pipelines passing under 1930s ME1; iron eating bacteria; runoff ponding from the right-of-way.  Photos by Patrick Robinson.)

Related NewsClips:

-- Post-Gazette: For Those Living Along Sunoco’s Mariner East Pipeline, A Human Chai Of Frustration [2018]

-- Indiana Gazette: Complaints Aired On Mariner East Pipeline [2020 & 2022]

-- Mountain Watershed Assn: Resident Loses Water From Mariner East Pipeline Construction [2021]

-- Daily Local News: Legislators Hear Of Water Woes From Mariner Pipeline Neighbors [Oct. 2021]

-- Brown Water In Faucets Drives PA Legislators’ Demand To Pull Mariner Pipeline Operating Permits [Oct. 2021]

-- Delaware Valley Journal: PA Lawmakers Call For Shutdown Of Mariner East Pipeline Based On Water Impacts  [Oct. 2021]

-- ChesCo: Event To Protect Water Rights For Pennsylvanians Affected By Mariner East Pipeline [Oct. 2021]

Related Articles - PA’s Experience With Natural Gas Pipelines:

-- AG Shapiro: Energy Transfer/Sunoco Convicted Of Criminal Charges Related To Construction Of Mariner East 2 & Revolution Natural Gas/Liquids Pipelines In PA [PaEN]

-- AG Shapiro: Free Water Evaluations Begin For Homeowners Affected By Construction Of Mariner East 2 Natural Gas Liquids Pipeline  [PaEN]

-- House Committee Fails To Address $70 Million In Penalties On Natural Gas Pipelines Or Real Concerns Of People Living Near Gas Production & Distribution Facilities  [PaEN]

-- Natural Gas, Hazardous Liquids Pipelines Are NOT Required To Carry Insurance Or Show They Can Pay For Damages If They Explode, Leak Or Kill Someone [PaEN]

-- PA's Brand New Natural Gas Pipeline Exploded in 2018 in Beaver County  [PaEN]

Related Articles - Oil & Gas Industry Impacts:

-- Oil & Gas Industry Impacts: Cambria County Family Sues Sunoco After 3 Years Of Dealing With Damage To Home, Well, Septic System, Property From Mariner East Pipeline Construction  [PaEN]

-- Washington County Family Lawsuit Alleges Shale Gas Company Violated The Terms Of Their Lease By Endangering Their Health, Contaminating Their Water Supply And Not Protecting Their Land  [PaEN]

-- Oil & Gas Industry Impacts: Families Affected By Alleged ‘Frack-Out’ In Greene County Have A Little Happier Holiday Thanks To Water Donated By Center For Coalfield Justice  [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Drilling: An Industrial Machine Moving Across The PA Countryside Leaving Behind Big Liabilities & Spreading Pollution Everywhere It Goes  [8.3.22]

-- Better Path Coalition: 65 Organizations, Businesses, 2,700+ Individuals Petition Gov.-Elect Shapiro To Ban Road Dumping Of Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater  [12.12.22]

-- Citizen Complaints Result In DEP Issuing PA General Energy More Violations At Loyalsock Creek Gas Pipeline/Water Withdrawal Construction Site In Lycoming County  [PaEN] 

-- Presentations Now Available From Shale Gas & Public Health Conference In Nov. Hosted By PA League Of Women Voters & University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health  [PaEN

-- Senate Hearing: Body Of Evidence Is 'Large, Growing,’ ‘Consistent’ And 'Compelling' That Shale Gas Development Is Having A Negative Impact On Public Health; PA Must Act  [PaEN]

Related NewsClips This Week:

-- PA Capital-Star Guest Essay: It’s Time Pennsylvania Residents, Regulators Demand Health Risks From Shale Gas Fracking Be Addressed - By Clean Air Council

-- TribLive Guest Essay: I’ve Seen Firsthand How Harmful Methane Pollution From Oil & Gas Industry Can Affect Our Health - Physicians For Social Responsibility Pennsylvania

-- Bob Donnan Blog: Is The Public Being ‘Dimocked’ Again On Shale Gas?

Related Article This Week:

-- Oil & Gas Industry Impacts: Cambria County Family Sues Sunoco After 3 Years Of Dealing With Damage To Home, Well, Septic System, Property From Mariner East Pipeline Construction  [PaEN] 

-- Oil & Gas Industry Impacts: Families Affected By Alleged ‘Frack-Out’ In Greene County Have A Little Happier Holiday Thanks To Water Donated By Center For Coalfield Justice  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Approves Oil & Gas Development, Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant Water Withdrawal Requests  [PaEN]

-- League Of Women Voters, Partners Host Jan. 12 Webinar On LNG Natural Gas Export Terminal Safety  [PaEN]

-- Republican Herald Editorial: Gas Industry Appeased Too Long [PaEN]  

[Posted: December 22, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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