Another week and another fine for an affiliate of Energy Transfer LP (ET) in Pennsylvania, where the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a nearly $2 million fine for a drilling fluids release during construction of the Mariner East system.
Under a consent order between the agency and Sunoco Pipeline LP, the company has agreed to pay a $1.95 million civil penalty for the inadvertent return of fluids during horizontal directional drilling (HDD) operations in 2017 in Huntingdon County.
“Sunoco’s drilling activities resulted in the release of drilling fluids to the bottom of Raystown Lake. In numerous cases, the company failed to immediately report those releases,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “In addition to a financial penalty, we are also ordering Sunoco to undertake a number of environmental projects to improve the aquatic habitat in Raystown Lake.”
DEP said Sunoco did not immediately report losses of circulation of 3 million gallons of drilling fluid during HDD. The incident resulted in over 208,000 gallons of the fluids, a nontoxic clay and water slurry, covering eight acres of the lake bottom. The “unauthorized discharges,” DEP said, violated the state’s Clean Streams Law and Dam Safety and Encroachments Act. Sunoco’s permits require it to immediately report losses of circulation.
As part of remedial efforts, Sunoco must also implement a fish habitat improvement plan at a minimum value of $1.15 million. The company is also required to complete an invasive aquatic vegetation control plan to treat 110 acres of Raystown Lake for invasive plant species.
While inadvertent returns are a common occurrence during directional drilling, Sunoco has had repeated issues with them throughout the state during work to complete Mariner East. Multiple drilling fluid spills, impacts to local water supplies and other violations during construction of the system have resulted in more than $13 million in fines.
The system, which consists of three pipelines in various stages of development and service, has faced constant regulatory and legal challenges that have led to delays and operational problems. It moves natural gas liquids from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia.
ET has had problems with other pipeline projects in the state as well, and the DEP earlier this month lifted a suspension of all the company’s permits that had been pending, including those that would allow it to finish work on parts of Mariner East, after it addressed various issues.
The company did not contest the fine, saying that it understands the recreational value of the lake and is satisfied with the consent order.
“This will allow us to move forward to complete our construction activities in this area and others as we re-engage our construction crews and mobilize equipment as part of the broader agreement with the DEP related to reviewing and approving our permit applications,” said spokesperson Lisa Coleman.
DEP warned that failure to comply with the latest consent order could result in more penalties of $1,000 per day. Any other inadvertent returns or losses of circulation, the agency added, could result in daily penalties of $5,000.