The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) last week issued three more violation notices to Sunoco Pipeline LP related to spills during horizontal directional drilling (HDD) for the Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline project at separate locations in Blair and Lebanon counties.
The agency as of last week had issued 40 violation notices to the company since last year, when construction began. Sunoco notified the DEP of the three incidents, which were each classified as violations of the Clean Streams Law.
In the first incident, Sunoco reported an inadvertent return of roughly 50 gallons of drilling fluids last Thursday at an HDD location that leaked into a creek in West Cornwall Township in Lebanon County. In the second incident on the same day, the company reported an inadvertent return of 200 gallons of drilling fluids at an HDD site that leaked into a wetland to the west in Frankstown Township in Blair County. In both cases, Sunoco has been ordered to submit a restart report prepared by a licensed professional geologist, among other things. Drilling operations may not begin again until the DEP has signed off.
In the third incident that occured on Saturday, Sunoco notified the DEP that the drill pit at the entry of a different HDD location in Frankstown was overflowing. As a result, DEP said diluted drilling fluids leaked into the Frankstown Branch Juniata River that were visible 1.5 miles downstream. DEP said in the violation notice that Sunoco attributed the overflow of the drill pit to drilling activities that caused groundwater to be released into the pit at a rate of 500 gallons/minute, “which exceeded onsite capacity to effectively manage it.”
In addition to submitting a report compiled by a professional geologist on the cause of the overflow and other steps, Sunoco must provide documentation that it has notified all public water supplies with a source downstream from where the drilling fluids entered the tributary. The company must also provide documentation that it has notified every landowner with a private water supply within 450 feet of the HDD alignment. Drilling operations at the site are to remain suspended until certain requirements are met.
Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners LP, has been dogged by regulatory setbacks during the course of ME2 construction. It paid a historic $12.6 million fine to the DEP last month to resolve dozens of violations related to the project. At that point, the DEP also lifted a suspension on nearly all construction after it approved the revised operations plan, which sets forth additional measures and controls to minimize inadvertent returns and water supply incidents. The project is expected to be in-service before mid-year.
Mariner East 1 operations are also currently suspended after regulators discovered sinkholes that had formed near it during the construction of ME2 and a third pipeline, ME 2X, which is being built beside the others.
Both ME 2 and ME 2X 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.