mariner east

Citing adverse impacts at a horizontal directional drill (HDD) site in southeastern Pennsylvania, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has ordered Sunoco Pipeline LP to reroute part of its Mariner East (ME) system.

Sunoco will need to “take all steps necessary, including the submission of appropriate applications and supporting materials for permit amendments,” to implement a 1.1-mile reroute of its ME system around the “HDD-290” site in Upper Uwchlan Township, Chester County, PA, according to an administrative order issued Friday by the DEP.

Last month, Sunoco spilled 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid and caused a 15-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep subsidence at the site, adversely impacting wetlands, two tributaries to the Marsh Creek Lake and the lake itself, the DEP said. Marsh Creek Lake is in Marsh Creek State Park, “one of the most visited state parks in Pennsylvania,” according to the order.

“These incidents are yet another instance where Sunoco has blatantly disregarded the citizens and resources of Chester County with careless actions while installing” the ME pipeline system, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said. “We will not stand for more of the same. An alternate route must be used. The department is holding Sunoco responsible for its unlawful actions and demanding a proper cleanup.”

In addition to ordering a reroute, the DEP has ordered Sunoco to “further assess, investigate and restore resources impacted” by ME construction in Upper Uwchlan Township.

The reroute the DEP is ordering was previously evaluated by Sunoco and deemed “technically feasible,” according to the agency. The DEP said it prefers the new route over the current path, “which has resulted in multiple drilling fluid spills and subsidence in a wetland area.”

The reroute outlined in the administrative order would involve creating a greenfield utility corridor. Sunoco reported to the DEP that the reroute would likely require the company “to use condemnation against previously unaffected landowners.”

The Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, whose membership includes economic development groups, labor unions, trade associations and chambers of commerce in the state, slammed the DEP’s order.

Rerouting “this portion of the project is no small matter, especially when you consider the pipe in this area is meant to connect two existing pipes that are already in the ground,” said Kurt Knaus, spokesperson for the alliance. “Communities that thought this project was coming to an end now face potentially many more months of disruption, because this action has the potential of dramatically extending the construction life of a pipeline project that was nearly finished. 

“The economic impacts are just as real. Hundreds of local jobs are at stake downstream at Marcus Hook and along the line itself because of potential construction delays. This is Pennsylvania’s largest infrastructure project and it remains vital to the entire commonwealth, which is why it needs to move forward, not backward.”

Friday’s administrative order is the latest escalation in a back-and-forth between the DEP and Sunoco over construction of the ME system.

Late last month, Sunoco successfully challenged a DEP order calling on the developer to suspend HDD activities at a site in West Whiteland Township. 

While inadvertent returns are a common occurrence during HDD work, Sunoco has had repeated issues throughout Pennsylvania during construction of Mariner East. 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.

Mariner East, 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.