The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) on Thursday allowed Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) to resume transporting natural gas liquids (NGL) on the Mariner East (ME) 1 pipeline nearly two months after the state ordered those operations shut down to investigate sinkholes that formed near the system in Chester County.
The order came in response to a petition from ETP subsidiary Sunoco Pipeline LP to lift the emergency suspension that was issued in March after the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) recommended it.
Appalachian producers that rely on the line, such as Range Resources Corp. Antero Resources Corp. and CNX Resources Corp. managed to find other outlets for their NGLs and reported no significant impacts from the outage. But the PUC’s Thursday order restores a crucial outlet for 70,000 b/d of propane and ethane in a basin that lacks adequate liquids capacity.
Regulators had ordered the company to conduct an investigation of ME 1’s integrity and geophysical testing in the construction area where ME 2 and 2X are being built along the same right-of-way. I&E said late last month that Sunoco’s investigative work, surveys, analysis and corrective actions have resolved the state’s concerns.
The Thursday order, however, requires Sunoco to notify local officials, property owners and regulators of any significant events or construction variances that occur near the right-of-way. Among other conditions, the company must also notify regulators of any alternative construction methods used to complete ME 2 and 2X.
Given the flurry of activity along the right-of-way, the March suspension and other transgressions that have occured during the Mariner East project, individuals, townships, environmental groups and even a homeowners association had filed at PUC to intervene in the suspension proceedings.
The opposition immediately chastised the PUC’s Thursday order. Food & Water Watch, for instance, said the decision was just another by the state that sacrifices the safety of communities living along the pipeline for ETP’s gain.
Shortly after the PUC issued its order Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said it had fined Sunoco more than $355,000 for violations of the Clean Streams Law that have occured since February during the construction of ME 2.
That fine comes in addition to an historic $12.6 million penalty the agency levied against Sunoco earlier this year for various violations, including more than 100 inadvertent returns of drilling mud, fluids and other substances.
DEP said the latest violations resulted from several unpermitted discharges of drilling fluids in multiple counties across the state.
ME 2 and 2X would run parallel for about 350 miles to move NGLs from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex for domestic and international distribution. ME 2 is expected to be completed by the end of June.