The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said Wednesday it had no choice but to suspend construction permits and stop construction of the Mariner East 2 (ME2) project as violations and spills have continued for months. 

Since May, DEP has issued Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) subsidiary Sunoco Pipeline LP more than 30 separate violation notices, most recently on Dec. 22. Over the same period, the agency has recorded more than 100 inadvertent returns of drilling mud, fluids and other substances that DEP said constitute unlawful conduct under state regulations.

“Until Sunoco can demonstrate that the permit conditions can and will be followed, DEP has no alternative but to suspend the permits,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said. “We are living up to our promise to hold this project accountable to the strong protections in the permits.

Under an order issued Wednesday, nearly all activities under the company’s Chapter 102 erosion control and Chapter 105 water obstruction permits were to be halted immediately. Erosion control maintenance and limited work on some horizontal directional drilling (HDD) equipment may continue to protect the environment.

The DEP’s order said Sunoco, among other things, violated its permits by discharging industrial waste into waters of the state; failing to obtain approval before certain construction activities and altering construction methods without authorization.

Sunoco’s permits are suspended until the terms of the order are satisfied, said state officials. Terms of the order include addressing the project’s impacts on private water wells in Cumberland County and identifying all current or upcoming construction activities that are authorized under the permits. Sunoco must also submit a detailed operations plan that outlines the additional measures and controls it would take to avoid more spills.

“We intend to expeditiously submit these reports and we are confident that we will be reauthorized to commence work on this project promptly,” said Sunoco spokesman Jeffrey Shields, who reiterated that the company remains committed to high construction standards and protecting the environment.

He did not indicate whether the latest setback could affect ME 2’s in-service date. The 350-mile pipeline would transport natural gas liquids from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia for domestic and international distribution. The project was initially slated to enter service in late 2016, but ongoing regulatory setbacks have led to repeated delays. Late last year, ETP said ME2 would enter service in 2Q2018 instead of coming online in phases beginning in 2017.

ME2, along with the existing ME 1, a third proposed pipeline and Mariner West, would have a combined system capacity of up to 800,000 b/d.

Sunoco battled landowners in courts across the state for years as it worked to secure easements for ME2. The project drew more ire over the summer, when more than a dozen families in Chester County reported losing water pressure and murky water where HDD for the pipeline was underway. Reports of private water problems near construction sites have since persisted in Southeast Pennsylvania. Shortly after the Chester County incident, both Gov. Tom Wolf and the DEP said they would do whatever was necessary to keep the project in check.

Some HDD operations were also halted over the summer in response to dozens of inadvertent returns. The Clean Air Council, Mountain Watershed Association and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) reached a settlement with the company in August requiring additional safeguards that, according to the DEP’s Wednesday order, have been violated. Those groups also have a broader appeal pending against ME 2’s state permits.

“This project was flawed from the start, and it is disgraceful that these flaws have manifested themselves in such a way that the public’s health and environment have been significantly impacted,” said the DRN’s Maya van Rossum. “This order provides further evidence that the project should never have been authorized by DEP in the first place.”