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Sunoco Again Stops ME2 Construction to Deal With Water Contamination Fallout

Sunoco Pipeline LP has again elected to stop horizontal directional drilling (HDD) for its Mariner East (ME) 2 natural gas liquids pipeline at a site in southeast Pennsylvania to deal with the water well problems the operations have caused for nearby landowners.

Company spokesman Jeff Shields said construction continues throughout the state and in Chester County, where the problems have been reported. Shields said HDD has stopped in an area of West Whiteland Township "while we make sure those homeowners are taken care of in the short and long term. We don't expect an impact to our overall schedule. We are working with landowners so that they are fairly compensated for costs associated with the conversion to public water."

Sunoco previously suspended work on the pipeline in the area from July 3-8 after 14 families living near the construction reported either losing water pressure or murky water. The company recently said it would connect affected homes to municipal water supplies provided by utility Aqua America Inc. and foot the bill for connection and water fees for years to come.

While 14 families reported water problems, Shields said a "wider net of folks in the same area" have expressed an interest in a public water connection because they're concerned about their wells. Township officials have estimated that as many as 30 landowners are now in discussions with the company.

The exact cause of the water contamination remains unclear, but bentonite drilling mud could have affected groundwater in the area. The ME 2 project is an intrastate system not regulated by the federal government.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman Neil Shader said the agency is aware of the issues and said they are under review. DEP is working to determine if Sunoco failed to meet the requirements outlined in its Chapter 105 Water Obstruction and Encroachment permits and its Chapter 102 Erosion and Sediment Control permits, including the special conditions and water supply assessment, preparedness, prevention and contingency plans. "Whether Sunoco did or did not comply with these requirements is also still under investigation," Shader said.

Shields said the company is discussing with landowners how it would pay the costs of connection and fees for public water supplies. For example, a lump sum payment  is an option. It remains unclear when the company might resume HDD in the area.

The 350-mile pipeline would transport ethane, butane and propane from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia for distribution to domestic and international markets. Combined with ME 1 and a third pipeline the company plans to construct shortly after ME 2 is completed, the system would have a capacity of up to 800,000 b/d. The first phase of ME 2 is still expected to be complete by the end of September and the second phase is slated for completion in 2018.

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