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Local officials turn up heat to ensure safety of pipeline process
By Bill Rettew, brettew@dailylocal.com
POSTED: 01/05/18, 3:43 PM EST | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO 0 COMMENTS


WEST CHESTER >> In light of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s decision Wednesday to shut down construction on the controversial Sunoco Mariner East 2 statewide, state Sen. Andy Dinniman has decided to turn up the heat on Sunoco.

Dinniman, D-19 of West Whiteland, said Thursday that the state has not, and is not, fully overseeing the safety of the pipeline process. The senator is inviting a group of citizens, civic leaders and elected officials to meet next week at his office to consider funding a study of the pipeline project with private money.

“The governor didn’t solve the problem in terms of protecting public safety, and if the state doesn’t do it we’ll perform a risk assessment ourselves,” Dinniman said.

Dinniman said that while other states regulate pipeline construction in high-density areas and consider an area’s geology, there is very little oversight in Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday the DEP indefinitely suspended work on the pipeline statewide until Sunoco complies with the terms of its permitting process.

The ruling comes in the wake of a DEP violation notice served to Sunoco concerning the company’s use of a controversial horizontal directional drilling method without the proper permitting out near Harrisburg.

Dinniman also is working closely with state Sen. John Rafferty, R-44, to propose a series of pipeline bills to be considered when the Legislature returns to session in late January.

“The reason we will have the bills – more pipelines will be built and we have to have protections that do not exist in this state now,” Dinniman said.

Dinniman said it’s important for citizens to know who was responsible for decisions being made every step of the way in the approval process leading up to construction of Mariner East 2.

Sunoco Pipeline LP’s $2.5 billion project is expected to deliver as much as 250,000 barrels a day of ethane, butane and propane from the state Marcellus Shale regions to the former Sunoco refinery complex at Marcus Hook.

“Who made the decision to allow for such an easy process?” Dinniman asked. “It’s a little late for the DEP to start acting tough when for six months they didn’t enforce. They still haven’t taken care of adequate enforcement in our area.”

Jeff Shields, Sunoco Pipeline communications manager, insisted Thursday that the company is working with DEP to resolve the problems.

“We continue to work with the DEP to resolve all issues connected with our environmental permits and look forward to promptly returning to work on this important pipeline project,” Shields said. “Safety is our first priority ― the safety of those in the community, the safety of our employees and the safety of the environment.”

Dinniman and Lynda Farrell, executive director of Pipeline Safety Coalition, pointed to a group of citizens in Chester and Delaware counties who have created a united front against pipeline construction.

This shows that people have different approaches to the basic problems of this project, Farrell said.

“All worked together for a common goal with our legislators saying, ‘enough is enough.’” she said.

In Delaware and Chester counties, there are now 50,000 residents in the loop and connected to grass-roots organizations, raising their voices, largely in opposition to the pipeline project. Their concerns center on safety, including the proximity to densely populated neighborhoods, schools and senior centers.

“This is just the first step,” Farrell said. “As much as this has been a long haul, it’s a stellar achievement by our citizens and legislators. This is the first step to make a real difference. When a collective community works together, things happen.”

“This is the most amazing, dedicated and organized group I’ve seen in 30 years of public service,” Dinniman said.

State Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-156, is also meeting with stakeholders next week.

“I’m pleased that the administration is responding to the violations and safety concerns that have been raised by so many people, however, we still don’t a have a risk assessment and it’s essential that it happens,” Comitta said. “This is a step that needs to be done.”

Farrell pointed to a letter that Dinniman wrote to the governor asking him to pull the plug on pipeline construction. After that letter was posted, other legislators decided to fight pipeline construction.

Dinniman isn’t getting complacent.

“While we certainly appreciate the actions of the governor taken thus far, much needs to be done in term of public safety,” Dinniman said. “We need to go even further in terms of protecting the health and safety of residents.”

State Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26, and state Sen. Tom Killion, R-9, Thursday joined the chorus of voices stressing public safety following the DEP action to suspend construction.

“From the beginning of this regulatory process, we have insisted that the job creation and energy development that come from this project must not occur at the cost of health, safety or protecting the environment,” their statement said.

“We still believe that the economic benefits can co-exist with safety and environmental protection, but this pause ordered by DEP seems necessary to ensure that this occurs. It is critical that Sunoco Pipeline LP follow all permit conditions.

“Pennsylvania can be a leader in natural gas development, but we must get it right. That is why we are co-sponsoring several bills to ensure pipeline safety across Pennsylvania and hold pipeline owners accountable if anything goes wrong.”

McGarrigle and Killion are co-sponsors of legislation that would:

• Strengthen the pipeline siting review process.

• Require pipeline operators to conduct proper studies of aquifers that may be impacted by construction.

• Make owners and operators of pipelines liable for contaminating water supplies.

• Establish notification requirements for residents impacted by pipeline construction.

• Ensure pipeline construction in densely populated regions includes automatic or remote control safety valves.

• Require pipeline companies to provide funding to support emergency responders.

• Improve communication and coordination between emergency management agencies and pipeline companies in the event of an emergency.
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