- Mon Jul 24, 2017 9:31 am
Pols, Middletown residents focus on pipeline
By Leslie Krowchenko, Times Correspondent
POSTED: 07/23/17, 8:51 PM EDT | UPDATED: 15 SECS AGO 1 COMMENT
Pipeline for Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 pipeline is ready to go into the ground in East Goshen, Chester County. Citizens and elected representatives are growing more and more concerned with incidents that have taken place during construction.
Pipeline for Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 pipeline is ready to go into the ground in East Goshen, Chester County. Citizens and elected representatives are growing more and more concerned with incidents that have taken place during construction. BILL RETTEW JR. — DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA
MIDDLETOWN >> Similar to the Friday before each council meeting, the township posted Monday night’s agenda on its website and sent a link to residents registered for its email alert system.
Many who attend the session, however, may be more interested in comments from the public than a conditional use application for Ponds Edge or proposed amendment for the mixed use district.
Last week’s leak of 1,500 gallons of bentonite into an unnamed tributary of Chester Creek in connection with the installation of Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East 2 pipeline has reignited concerns about the safety of the operation. Coupled with recent incidents in Brookhaven, Uwchlan and West Whiteland, it has prompted residents to appeal to local and state government and legislators in Delaware and Chester counties to call for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to halt construction of the project.
“The pipeline is a risk to public safety,” said Eric Friedman, spokesperson for the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety. “The potential risks to water supplies were predicted in the documents Sunoco filed in its DEP applications.”
Spanning Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, Mariner East 2 is a 350-mile system that would bring as much as 350,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids such as propane, ethane and butane to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex. In addition to the township incident, installation has released approximately 580 gallons of the substance, a non-toxic lubricant used in horizontal direction drilling, into Chester Creek in Brookhaven, damaged water supplies in the two Chester County townships and pushed citizens to band together in community groups, including Protect Penn Delco, Uwchlan Safety Coalition and the recently formed Upper Uwchlan Residents for Safety. Concerns have also prompted the members of the Sisters of St. Francis, who serve Neumann University in Aston, to speak at township meetings and join in Saturday’s community day of resistance at Sleighton Park.
“Upper Uwchlan Residents for Safety got some press time,” wrote a member on the group’s Facebook page following the event. “We are all connected! Water is Life.”
Legislators have reached across the proverbial aisle in their calls for action. State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19, and representatives Carolyn Comitta, D-156, Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161, and Chris Quinn, R-168, asked for an immediate moratorium until DEP can ensure proper safeguards are in place to protect the safety and property of local residents.
Killion and Quinn partnered on a request to DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell for the department to publish a list of all notices of violation on its website. The department has to date issued four notices, including one in connection with the spill in Brookhaven, and announced a detailed list of incidents will be updated weekly.
Killion, whose district includes portions of both counties, is taking the seven-day updates a step farther, asking top officials involved with the project to attend regular weekly briefings for local municipal representatives to increase accountability and exchange critical information. He has suggested the meetings include DEP staffers, emergency responders, Sunoco and other regulators involved in oversight, such as the Public Utility Commission and federal agencies, as deemed necessary.
“In the many conversations I have had with local elected officials, one common frustration expressed is the need for additional and more frequent communication from all those involved,” he said. “There are many regulatory and public safety agencies involved in monitoring the project and if there are adverse impacts, we expect those responsible to address them.”
While the need for communication is critical, the desire for a glass of water from the tap on a 90-plus degree day is for many an even more pressing issue. Last month’s damage to underground water supplies feeding aquifers in West Whiteland was so severe Sunoco was forced to supply bottled water to nearly a dozen residences. At least one aquifer was impacted last week in Delaware County, potentially affecting a private well.
As the state does not regulate their construction nor require owners to register them, Quinn and Comitta are each working on private well bills to give the department the proper regulatory authority to protect them and help prevent similar situations from occurring. Krueger-Braneky has asked DEP to conduct independent water testing in all potentially impacted private wells, as well as Chester Creek, to provide residents with confirmation about water safety.
Quinn, a former member of township council, noted he is ready “to roll up his sleeves and needs McDonnell and his department to do the same.”
“There are quite a few private wells in the 168th,” he said. “The fact DEP holds no authority over them is a hole in the process and we need to insure that the department is equipped to be involved in every aspect.”
Adding “the process is the issue,” Quinn said he would be just as adamant if the subject was a water main instead of 16- and 20-inch pipelines with the capacity to transport up to 700,000 gallons of product a day.
“There is a disconnect,” he said. “I would be just as upset if we were talking about a water main.”
Comitta said she will likely co-sponsor Quinn’s bill and he is one of 25 bi-partisan representatives who has co-sponsored her bill to form a pipeline safety and communication board. Because many residents are unaware of the impact of the work, the board would provide information on construction, operation and maintenance, related traffic congestion, noise, environmental impacts, health and safety issues and if necessary, evacuation plans in case of an emergency.
Conveying one’s concern about the pipeline requires action, said Comitta, whether talking with neighbors, speaking at municipal meetings or contacting one’s legislator.
“Some other ways to help support pipeline safety are for residents to stay informed and perhaps form local networks,” she added. “These groups can be most effective by working together with advocacy groups in other communities along the pipeline.”
Although groups may at times feel they are voices crying in the wilderness, their message is apparently being received. The governor’s office issued a press release last week noting he is aware of incidents and has asked DEP to use every tool appropriate to actively investigate them.
“I have heard concerns directly from in-person meetings with local legislators along with residents who have written and called my office,” he said. “I have directed DEP to do what they are legally able and feel is appropriate to ensure the operator is held accountable to addressing these incidents and taking additional steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring.”