Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
A Pennsylvania PUC decision, combined with the well-deserved jailing of radical tree sitter Ellen Gerhart spell the end of the campaign against Mariner East.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) yesterday voted 3-2 to allow construction to resume on the Mariner East 2 and 2x pipelines in West Whiteland Township, Chester County (near Philadelphia), ending a weeks-long stoppage specific only to that area. The shutdown began in May after a PUC administrative law judge’s highly questionable ruling, which affected ME1, ME2 and ME2x.
After an initial three-week shutdown, the PUC voted in June to approve the restart of ME1. It was the second time in a little more than a month that the PUC voted to restart the line after finding it poses no risk. Work in West Whiteland Township for ME2 has been paused since the administrative law judge’s May ruling. With the PUC’s action yesterday, Sunoco can resume work on the project in Chester County. Although they can’t resume work on all of it.
The vote yesterday does not lift the construction ban on four locations in West Whiteland waiting for new/revised permits from the state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP). Still, this is a big positive, and a major blow to antis who are not happy.
Here’s the announcement from the PUC about yesterday’s vote (emphasis added):
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today discontinued an injunction issued in June 2018 involving construction work by Sunoco Pipeline L.P. (Sunoco) at several locations on the Mariner East 2 (ME2) and Mariner East 2X (ME2X) pipelines in West Whiteland Township, Chester County- while continuing injunctions for locations where necessary environmental permits have not yet been issued.
The Commission approved the action by a 3-2 vote, based on a joint motion by Commissioner Norman J. Kennard and Commissioner John F. Coleman, Jr. Dissenting statements were offered by Chairman Gladys M. Brown and Vice Chairman Andrew G. Place.
Today’s action comes following numerous required PUC filings by Sunoco, including affidavits noting that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued permits authorizing construction at eight separate locations in West Whiteland Township. In response to the granting of environmental permits, the Commission order lifts the PUC injunction involving construction at those locations.
Also today, the Commission continued the PUC injunction involving four remaining locations in West Whiteland Township. That injunction will remain in effect until Sunoco has demonstrated that DEP has issued the appropriate permissions for continued construction work on ME2 and ME2X at those sites.
While today’s action by the Commission addresses emergency injunctions regarding construction of ME2 and ME2X, a broad complaint involving of Sunoco’s Mariner East pipelines is still before the PUC’s Office of Administrative Law Judge. An initial prehearing conference for that case is scheduled for late-August, to address various procedural issues.
Here’s a copy of the joint motion voted on yesterday. Two of the five members of the PUC wanted to keep the ME2 construction ban in place. No surprise, one of the two was Gladys Brown, Chairperson of the PUC, appointed by Tom Wolf, big-time liberal Democrat. Here’s her dissenting opinion.
The other dissenter was Andrew Place. He’s turned out to be a disappointment as a PUC member. Place once worked for EQT and was one of the original members of a group working with environmentalists to establish a higher standard for the shale industry. That group gave birth to what would become the Center for Responsible Shale Development. We’ve noticed a trend in his votes–against the shale industry. Here’s Place’s dissenting opinion.
In a split decision, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission voted to allow Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 and 2x pipeline construction to resume in parts of West Whiteland Township, Chester County.
The 3-2 vote followed a decision by an agency administrative law judge who halted work in May. The pipeline project caused sinkholes and damaged drinking water supplies, which the judge found to be “an imminent risk to the public.”
Commissioners Norman Kennard, John Coleman and David Sweet voted to allow construction in eight of 12 locations where the Department of Environmental Protection had recently granted permission.
PUC chair Gladys Brown and commissioner Andrew Place opposed Thursday’s decision to remove restrictions on construction in the suburban Philadelphia community. The PUC voted in June to maintain the injunction imposed on Sunoco by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes, and set conditions on the company, including that it get new permits from the Department of Environmental Protection.
While the company did secure permits for those eight locations, Brown said the intent was not to lift the injunction in a “piecemeal” fashion. She also expressed disappointment with Sunoco’s response.
“I note that Sunoco opted not to provide one iota more than was requested and did not, in my opinion, attempt to assuage the concerns regarding lack of transparency voiced by the Parties in this proceeding,” she said in a statement.
Place, the PUC’s vice-chair, also said Sunoco had not submitted sufficient information that would have complied with the order.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester County), who has filed a lawsuit calling for the pipeline construction and operation to be stopped in West Whiteland Township, criticized the decision.
“In essence, what the PUC did today is overrule its own independent, administrative law judge and fail to recognize any of the safety concerns,” Dinniman said in a statement, “including the close proximity of the pipeline route to our schools, that many of our citizens are increasingly concerned about.”
Residents have raised safety concerns not just with the construction, but also the operation of the pipeline. It will carry natural gas liquids like ethane, propane and butane from the western part of the state through the densely populated communities in Chester and Montgomery counties to an export terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
Energy Transfer Partners, which now owns Sunoco, has said the line will be operational in the fall. A spokesperson said the company is “pleased with the decision,” and that the timeline for completion of the project is unchanged. The almost $3 billion project has run into delays from drilling mud spills and Sunoco plans to repurpose an existing 12-inch line to complete the project on time.
Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance spokesman Kurt Knaus had this to say in an e-mail communication:
“The PUC has been a watchdog over this project and has ensured that construction is done safely and responsibly. This action is more evidence of the strict oversight that guides pipeline development in Pennsylvania. Getting this project back on track is an important step in re-powering our energy economy and encouraging further development in Pennsylvania communities.”
As soon as DEP issues permits for the other four ME2 locations in West Whiteland, we expect the PUC will fully lift the construction embargo and then we can finally get this project done.
Editor’s Note: See our earlier article about Senator Andy “Soprano” Dinniman using taxpayer dollars to harass Mariner East and note how Gladys Brown and he both fault Mariner East for simply complying with PUC orders. Apparently, they both want the company to commit nothing short of hari kari. They’re both overplaying their hand in solidarity with the Delaware Povertykeeper gang, which raises the question of what the heck is going on here.
Except that we know, don’t we? This is no longer merely a case of NIMBYism. Shill groups for wealthy foundations such as the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation are exploiting and amplifying the local opposition to send a message to ETP/Sunoco Logistics that they never allow them to build another pipeline in Pennsylvania without constant harassment. The Delaware Povertykeeper, Clean Air Council and StateImpactPA are essentially implementing a coordinated campaign for that purpose.
But, they’ve gone too far. Infamous Camp White Pine tree-sitter Ellen Gerhart has now been held in contempt of court and jailed, although StateImpactPA has predictably tried to make her a martyr. So is the DailyKos, which is promoting her GoFundMe legal fund, even though GoFundMe says “It is a violation of Go Fund Me terms to run a page for someone who has been charged with a crime, if the page is “in defense of formal charges or claims of heinous crimes, violent, hateful, sexual, or discriminatory acts.” Ellen Gerhart, of course, is charged with a crime and if you don’t think she’s hateful read this. She has imploded and the Mariner East opposition is also imploding. We just heard the last gasps from Gladys Brown and Andy Dinniman.