The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has ordered Sunoco Pipeline LP to cover exposed pipelines carrying refined products and natural gas liquids (NGL) at dozens of locations across the state.
DEP said after an exposed line was discovered in June, the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) asked Energy Transfer LP subsidiary Sunoco to identify any others that have been uncovered.
“Pipelines can become exposed over time due to erosion in stream channels or due to their position in the ground, as many were constructed before there were standards on how deep they should be buried,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “These identified pipelines are now exposed to weather, flooding and vandalism, which can result in a failure of the pipeline and subsequent impacts to our waterways, so it’s critical that Sunoco addresses them immediately.”
At 42 locations, pipelines carrying refined products have been exposed, while part of another transporting NGLs has also been unearthed. The exposed pipelines are not at construction sites, DEP said.
Energy Transfer spokesperson Lisa Coleman said the company is reviewing the order so it can be addressed properly going forward. “We have been working cooperatively with DEP to address these areas, so the issuance of the order took us by surprise,” she said.
Coleman echoed the DEP in saying that pipelines often become exposed during the “normal course” of operations. “This is a normal occurrence for all pipeline operators. Exposures do not make pipelines unsafe to operate.”
Ten of the locations where remediation work is underway did not require a permit from the DEP to backfill because they’re in upland areas, the agency said. Other sites do, however, and Sunoco now has about a month to apply for all necessary permits. Once those are received, the company would have 60 days to bury the exposed lines, according to DEP.
The order is the latest in a series of directives and fines in Pennsylvania for Energy Transfer and its affiliate as they’ve battled through a series of regulatory issues for projects. While DEP said state law prohibits agencies from releasing the locations of exposed pipelines, one major NGL project for Sunoco is the Mariner East (ME) system.
Sinkholes have opened up along the route in the past exposing the pipeline and causing operational outages on ME 1 and work stoppages on ME 2 and 2X. The regulatory issues have been so numerous that Sunoco was forced to use a refined products pipeline last year to bypass affected areas in order to meet customer commitments with partial service on ME 2. A portion of Energy Transfer’s Revolution natural gas pipeline also exploded last year and has remained offline as the company has struggled to comply with conditions set by state regulators.
DEP’s order to cover the exposed pipeline came this week after Sunoco won a legal victory. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that a state senator does not have standing to challenge the ME pipeline system, bringing the pipelines a step closer to full service.
The court overturned last year’s emergency order by the PUC that halted a stretch of construction on ME 2 and 2X in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township. The order has partly prevented full service from starting on the pipelines. State Sen. Andrew Dinniman had filed for an emergency injunction to stop construction, arguing that public safety was at risk.
The court ordered PUC to dissolve the emergency order, which could clear Sunoco to finish construction in West Whiteland. The PUC’s legal team is reviewing the court’s order to determine how to proceed, a spokesperson said. However, Energy Transfer said the court’s decision should allow it to restart work.
“We hope PUC acts swiftly to take care of this matter,” Coleman said. “We have always believed that Sen. Dinniman did not have the legal standing to bring his complaint to the PUC.”
The system moves NGLs from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia. Once all three pipelines enter full service, the system would have a total capacity of 595,000 b/d.
Coleman said this week’s ruling does not change the timeline for the rest of the project. ME 2X is expected to enter service by the end of the year, and the company is aiming for full service to start on ME 2 in the same timeframe. Coleman said the company is still waiting for the DEP to sign off on work at other points before all construction can resume.