PA PUC Overrules Lib Judge – Mariner East 1 Returns to Service

As MDN predicted, yesterday the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) voted to overturn a previous action by liberal administrative law judge, Elizabeth Barnes, to shut down the Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline (see Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice). ME1 is back up and running. All five PUC members supported returning ME1 back to service. However, three of the five PUC members agreed with Judge Barnes’ decision to temporarily shut down work on the Mariner East 2 pipeline project in West Whiteland Township (Chester County). Two of the five PUC members wanted all of Barnes’ ruling to be overturned. The reporting on this is somewhat confusing. PUC Chairwoman Gladys Brown put forward a motion to (a) turn ME1 back on, and (b) keep ME2 in West Whiteland stopped, for now, pending more information from Sunoco Logistics. The vote was 3-2 in favor of Brown’s motion. The 2 voting against it did so because it didn’t go far enough (they wanted ME2 construction to resume). So although the vote was 3-2, all 5 of the members wanted ME1 back on. That’s the real nub of the news–the subtlety that’s missed in most media reports. The 3-2 “split decision” that’s being reported is the decision to overrule Barnes on ME1, but keep her ruling intact (for now) on ME2. The PUC has ordered Sunoco to provide more information in the next 20 days: inspection and testing protocols, emergency response plans, and copies of safety training curriculum for employees and contractors. The PUC will then reconsider whether or not to allow ME2 work to resume in West Whiteland. But here’s the thing: Work on the rest of the 300+ mile pipeline continues everywhere else in the state–everywhere but West Whiteland. Overall, yesterday’s PUC action was a crushing defeat for PA State Sen. Andy “Tony Soprano” Dinniman (Democrat) and his Big Green cronies who want to assassinate the entire ME1 & ME2 projects by focusing on one small area…
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ME2 Work in Lebanon, PA Halted for Spilling a Single Cup of Mud

A single cup of drilling mud, bentonite, is nothing. It is beyond nothing. Bentonite is the clay-based compound used to make toothpaste, lipstick and kitty litter. It is completely non-toxic–it goes on and in the human body! And yet when underground drilling work restarted at Snitz Creek in Lebanon County, PA for the Mariner East 2 pipeline project, a single cup of drilling mud (bentonite) came out where it wasn’t supposed to (in the creek), so once again the whole shebang was shut down. Which we find crazy. What’s next–shutting down drilling when a tablespoon of drilling mud comes out? A teaspoon? Look, we get it. There have been other spills at Snitz Creek (see ME2 Construction in Lebanon County Stopped for 50 Gal Mud Spill). If a cup comes out, maybe it will be followed by a gallon coming out. And if a gallon comes out, maybe 10 gallons or even 50 gallons will follow. Immediately halting all underground horizontal directional drilling used to install the pipeline under Snitz Creek is an “abundance of caution” thing. But come on! So what if 10 or even 50 gallons comes out? It’s bentonite and its non-toxic! Spilling 50 gallons of the stuff in the creek is like spilling 10 bags of kitty litter in the creek. A few fish and salamanders might die. So what? That’s the price of progress. Here’s the crazy news that a single cup of drilling mud has once again stopped ME2 work in Lebanon County at Snitz Creek…
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Antis Rally Near Philly to Permanently Shut Down ME1/ME2 Pipes

PA State Sen. Andy Dinniman

In May, anti-fossil fuel pipeline opponents finally found a single, liberal administrative judge to shut down the Mariner East 1 (ME1) NGL pipeline–a pipeline that’s been operating without any problems for more than a year (see Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice). Sunoco Logistics Partners, the owner of ME1, and the builder of the Mariner East 2 (ME2) Pipeline project, appealed the judge’s decision to the full Public Utility Commission (PUC). A decision about the shutdown (whether to lift is) is due any time. In an attempt to pressure the PUC and Gov. Tom Wolf to *permanently* shut down ME1 and ME2, a group of 150 or so rallied near Philadelphia on Saturday. Something you should know: A total shutdown of ME1 and ME2 is not going to happen. But that doesn’t stop self-deluding nutters from trying. Inevitably the protesters are disappointed. They talk themselves into the fictional fantasy that a pipeline that has been fully permissioned and 98% done (ME2) will simply stop and not be allowed to finish construction and begin operations. They tell themselves they can get a pipeline with a perfect safety record (running for more than a year) permanently shut down. Ain’t gonna happen. But they tell themselves these things, over and over, convincing themselves. People like PA State Sen. Andy “Tony Soprano” Dinniman, recklessly feeds his kook nutbase these fantasies. Totally irresponsible. So they gather, as they did this past weekend, to protest and “demand” that the PUC shut down these projects. What will happen when the full PUC overturns the liberal judge’s biased decision? How will the protesters handle the defeat?…
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Lebanon County Judge Rules ME1 is Public Utility, Pump Stn OK

This story stretches back four years. In November 2014, MDN told you about anti-drillers in Lebanon County, PA who had succumbed to shiny object syndrome and transferred their irrational hatred of fossil fuels from the Williams Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project to the already-in-the-ground but getting repurposed Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 1 pipeline (see New Target for Lebanon, PA Antis: Mariner East Pipeline). As part of converting ME1 from an oil pipeline to flow natural gas liquids, including propane and ethane, from western PA to the Philadelphia area, some 31 pump and valve stations needed to be built–one of them in West Cornwall in Lebanon County. Three local residents and an anti-drilling group called Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County filed an appeal with the zoning board to force the town to rescind permits they granted to allow the pump station. In May 2015, the West Cornwall Township Zoning Hearing Board declared the appeal “moot”–meaning denied (see Antis’ Zoning Appeal re Mariner East Pump Stn in Lebanon “Moot”). The antis decided to throw good money after bad and appealed the matter to Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas (i.e. county court). Finally, after years, the judge in the case backed ME1 over the antis, delivering his decision earlier this week. The judge ruled that ME1 is exempt from certain local zoning restrictions because it is (yes), a “public utility.” Which should not surprise anyone. Just last week the U.S. Supreme Court said the same thing when it refused to hear an eminent domain case for ME2, a different but closely related pipeline (see U.S. Supreme Court Lets Stand Eminent Domain for ME2 Pipeline). Like ME2, ME1 is a public utility. So say all the courts…
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U.S. Supreme Court Lets Stand Eminent Domain for ME2 Pipeline

It’s been a long, tough fight to get the Mariner East 2 Pipeline (ME2) project built. In fact, it’s still not 100% built (it is about 98% done). Construction on a tiny section near Philadelphia is currently being stopped by a liberal judge (see Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice). We expect that to be resolved soon. However, the project has been sued multiple times in different courts. One of the favored legal arguments was/is to say the project does not have the right to use the power of eminent domain to force recalcitrant landowners from accepting it. One such case, brought by a Lebanon County, PA landowner, was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday the Supremes declined to review the case, a challenge to ME2’s ability to use eminent domain, thereby cementing a ruling by the PA Commonwealth Court that ME2 can indeed use eminent domain. Period. End of sentence. The Supreme Court ruling is just the latest in a string of rulings favoring the ME2 project. Last summer, a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel ruled in favor of ME2, upholding its status as a public utility because it will provide increased public access to energy resources like propane. Huntingdon County Common Pleas Court Judge George Zanic ruled against efforts to delay construction of ME2 after Commonwealth Court validated the utility status by dismissing an appeal. None of this is new. The court have repeatedly ruled against challenges to the state Public Utility Commission’s designation of ME2 as a public utility with  public benefits. And now, the Supremes have rendered the final word: ME2 is a public utility
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Towns Compete in PA DEP Hunger Games to Grab $12.6M of ME2 Cash

Que the music with dramatic drums, cymbals and trumpets. Camera A, zoom in on Secretary McDonnell. The whole state is watching. It’s time for the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) Hunger Games to begin! In February Sunoco Logistics Partners agreed to pay a massive (historically high) $12.6 million fine to the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) for “permit violations related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline project” (see Sunoco LP Pays PA DEP $12.6M to Resume ME2 Pipeline Construction). Sunoco’s ME2 construction activities caused a few erosion issues here and some drilling mud leaks there–so-called “harms” to the environment. Surely some of the massive, historically high $12.6 million fine will be used to “fix” those problems, right? Wrong. Sunoco had to pay twice–pay to clean up the problems AND pay the fine. The fine was essentially a shakedown, Sunoco had to pay it or they would not be allowed to resume construction work on ME2. In April the DEP announced a new program to distribute the $12.6 million of fine money (see PA DEP Hunger Games Competition to Distribute $12.6M in ME2 Money). In Hunger Games tradition, the DEP is conducting a lottery for the 85 municipalities along ME2’s path, allowing those “districts” to submit begging proposals to request some of the money for programs in their district. The contestants have 45 days, from May 7 to June 20, to make a grab for the cash (i.e. submit a grant application). Here’s how one town in Lebanon County is preparing what they hope is a winning entry–their chance to grab some of ME2’s money…
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Sunoco Appealing ME1 Shutdown to Full PUC to Overturn Lib Judge

As MDN reported last Friday, fossil fuel opponents finally located a liberal judge that they could persuade to abuse her judicial power to shut down not only construction on the 98% complete Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline project, but also shut down Mariner East 1 (ME1), a pipeline that has been working with no issues or problems for over a year (see Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice). It is an outrage that a single judge can inflict such economic damage. Sunoco responded by saying they are pursuing “all legal remedies to overturn this Order, including our right to request PUC review of the Order, which will be filed within the next seven days.” If/when Sunoco appeals to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), the full commission can and likely will meet right away, in a non-public hearing, and could restore ME1’s right to flow NGLs immediately, overruling the judge’s overtly political order. It could happen as fast as this week, although it’s more likely to happen next week. In the meantime, every day ME1 is down, great economic harm comes to companies like Sunoco and their customers that use ME1, primarily Range Resources…
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Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice

Anti-fossil fuel nutters have finally, after months and years, scored a minor victory. They’ve been shopping to locate an ultra-liberal judge who would ignore the law and instead issue edicts from the bench–to shut down both the Mariner East 1 (ME1) and Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline projects. Yesterday Elizabeth Barnes, an administration law judge for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), unilaterally ordered Sunoco Logistics Partners to “cease and desist all current operation, construction, including drilling activities on the Mariner East 1, 2 and Mariner East 2X pipeline” in West Whiteland Township (Chester County, PA). The judge also moved to shut down all operations of Mariner East 1 across the state, ruling that she is “enjoining Respondent from operating Mariner East 1.” It is a breathtaking display of arrogance and seizure of power that does not belong to her. The ruling runs counter to other decisions regarding these critical pipeline projects–projects that have been thoroughly vetted by numerous regulatory agencies. Construction of ME2 is 94% complete! ME1 has been flowing NGLs for over a year–with ZERO problems! And yet Barnes has shut it all down, with the stroke of a pen. We predict it won’t last long…
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Sunoco’s ME1 Pipe Restarts, ME2 Pipe Pays Another $355K in Fines

On March 3, the Mariner East 1 (ME1) natural gas liquids (NGL) pipeline was suddenly switched off by order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) after a sinkhole opened up under the pipeline in Chester County, exposing some of the bare steel to the open air (see PA PUC Shuts Down Mariner 1 Pipeline Due to Mariner 2 Sinkhole). Sunoco Logistics Partners, the owner of ME1, is building a new set of pipelines called Mariner East 2 (ME2) close to the existing ME1 pipeline. Construction work in the area on ME2 led to the sinkhole that exposed ME1. The PUC asked Sunoco to drill holes and pour concrete in them to firm up ME1, which Sunoco did (see PA PUC Asks Sunoco to Drill Holes, Pour Concrete to Firm Up ME1). A full two months after ordering ME1 turned off, costing Sunoco (and Range Resources) millions of dollars in lost revenue, the PUC told Sunoco they could restart ME1. As of today, propane and ethane have resumed flowing through ME1. But what The Almighty State grants with one hand, it takes away with the other. Although Sunoco paid a massive $12.6 million fine in February to the Dept. of Environmental Protection related to ME2 construction misadventures (see Sunoco LP Pays PA DEP $12.6M to Resume ME2 Pipeline Construction), yesterday the DEP assessed Sunoco *another* $355,622 penalty for more ME2 misadventures–what DEP calls “violations of the Clean Streams Law”…
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Philly Dem Senator Tries to Shut Down ME2 Pipe Construction

PA State Senator Andy Dinniman

A Chester County, PA (Philadelphia area) Democrat State Senator by the name of Andy Dinniman (who we think looks like Tony Soprano) continues his mission to stop the Mariner East 2 (ME2) project. This is nothing new for Dinniman. He’s been agitating and lobbying and demanding and pouting for over a year in his quest to shut down ME2 (see our Dinniman stories here). According to a press release from Dinniman issued last Thursday, the Senator has filed “a formal legal complaint and a petition for interim emergency relief with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to prohibit construction of the Mariner East 2 (ME2) and Mariner East 2X (ME2X) pipelines in West Whiteland Township.” Dinniman claims Sunoco Logistics Partners (builder of ME2) has 20 days to respond to the complaint. No doubt Sunoco will respond, and there’s little doubt the PUC will not do anything about Dinniman’s request…
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PA PUC Asks Sunoco to Drill Holes, Pour Concrete to Firm Up ME1

For more than a year, Marcellus/Utica ethane and propane have been flowing through the converted Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline safely, hauling the two natural gas liquids (NGLs) from southwest PA all the way to the Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. The primary shipper using ME1 has been Range Resources, although other companies like CNX Resources use it too. However, ME1 was suddenly switched off on March 3 by order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) after a sinkhole opened up under the pipeline in Chester County, exposing some of the bare steel to the open air (see PA PUC Shuts Down Mariner 1 Pipeline Due to Mariner 2 Sinkhole). Sunoco Logistics Partners, the owner of ME1, is building a new set of pipelines called Mariner East 2 (ME2) close to the existing ME1. Construction work in the area on ME2 led to the sinkhole that exposed ME1. The PUC shut down ME1 until further notice, requiring Sunoco to conduct a study of the area and provide the PUC with evidence to reassure them that ME1 is OK and will not leak or explode. Sunoco conducted the study, provided its results, and told the PUC it’s time to restart ME1–but the PUC is dragging its feet (see Sunoco Says ME1 Ready to Restart, but PUC is Dragging its Feet). The new news is that the PUC recently told Sunoco that before ME1 can restart, the company must first drill 10 new holes in the area of the sinkholes and pour in concrete (“grout”) in an effort to ensure ME1 doesn’t move around and break open…
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ME2 Pipe Work in Chester County Shut Down (Again) Following Leaks

Hypersensitive: excessively or abnormally sensitive. That’s the word we would use to describe what’s happening in Chester County, PA–a suburb of Philadelphia–with regard to underground horizontal directional drilling work (HDD) being performed by Sunoco Logisitics Partners on the Mariner East 2 pipeline project. The company keeps having “inadvertent returns”–which we call leaks. Drilling mud (bentonite) used to cool the drill bit goes down the hole, and sometimes it pops back up on the surface in a different place from where it went down. Since the drilling mud is non-toxic clay and water (same stuff used to make kitty litter, toothpaste and lipstick), it’s no big deal. Unless there’s thousands of gallons of it turning up in a creek where it can smother fish and aquatic life. There’s cracks in the ground near the surface and sometimes the mud leaks out of those cracks. Sunoco must track leaks of down to less than one gallon. Antis look at the numbers and make wild claims that the pipeline has leaked “over 100 times” since drilling began. While technically true, many of those leaks are nothingburgers–not worth tracking or talking about (a few gallons at most). However, some of the leaks are big and yes, those do need talking about. Over the past week or so another four leaks have occurred in Chester County, totaling 8,000 gallons. Fortunately none of it ended up in a creek. Because of the leaks, the state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) has, once again, shut down any further HDD work in Chester County…
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Sunoco Says ME1 Ready to Restart, but PUC is Dragging its Feet

Ethane and propane had been flowing through the converted Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline safely for more than year, hauling the two natural gas liquids (NGLs) from southwest PA all the way to the Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. However, ME1 was suddenly switched off on March 3 by order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) after a sinkhole opened up under the pipeline in Chester County, exposing some of the bare steel to the open air (see PA PUC Shuts Down Mariner 1 Pipeline Due to Mariner 2 Sinkhole). Sunoco Logistics Partners, the owner of ME1, is building a new set of pipelines called Mariner East 2 (ME2) close to the existing ME1. Construction work in the area on ME2 led to the sinkhole that exposed ME1. The PUC shut down ME1 until further notice, requiring Sunoco to conduct a study of the area and provide the PUC with evidence to reassure them that ME1 is OK and will not leak or explode. Sunoco conducted the study, provided its results, and has told the PUC it’s time to restart ME1. But the PUC is dragging its feet, taking its time to review Sunoco’s work, and in no particular hurry to restart ME1–even though the outage is impacting the drilling program at companies like Range Resources…
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PA DEP Hunger Games Competition to Distribute $12.6M in ME2 Money

In February Sunoco Logistics Partners agreed to pay a massive (historically high) $12.6 million fine to the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) for “permit violations related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline project” (see Sunoco LP Pays PA DEP $12.6M to Resume ME2 Pipeline Construction). Sunoco’s ME2 construction activities caused a few erosion issues here and some drilling mud leaks there–so-called “harms” to the environment. Surely some of the massive, historically high $12.6 million fine Sunoco is paying will be used to “fix” those problems, right? Wrong. Sunoco has to pay twice–pay to clean up the problems AND pay the fine. The fine was essentially a shakedown–Sunoco had to pay it or they would not be allowed to resume construction work on ME2. Yesterday the DEP announced a new program to distribute the $12.6 million of fine money. In Hunger Games tradition, the DEP is launching a lottery for the 85 municipalities along ME2’s path, allowing those “districts” to submit begging proposals to request some of the money for programs in their district. What kind of programs? “[P]rojects that reduce or minimize pollution and protect clean water.” In other words, just about anything contestants can dream up. They have 45 days, from May 7 to June 21, to make a grab for the cash (i.e. submit a grant application)…
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Sunoco Requests Change of Drilling Methods for ME2 Near Sinkholes

Underground horizontal directional drilling (HDD) work done by Sunoco Logisitics Partners in Chester County to install the twin Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipelines has led to the development of three large sinkholes (see 3rd Sinkhole Appears Near ME2 Construction in Chester County, PA). The third sinkhole that developed exposed a portion of the existing Mariner East 1 pipeline, causing ME1 to be closed until further notice (see PA PUC Shuts Down Mariner 1 Pipeline Due to Mariner 2 Sinkhole). In order for ME1 to reopen, the state Public Utility Commission has to be assured further drilling for ME2 won’t further disturb ME1. The problem is that the underground geology in that area of Chester County is known as a karst–analogous to Swiss cheese rock layers underground. Not conducive to HDD work. So Sunoco is changing gears. The company has filed a request with the Dept. of Environmental Protection (which oversees the regulation of the project) to change from using HDD to instead using a couple of alternative methods to get the pipe in the ground–including trenching. Before the DEP gives its OK, they will first hold a public hearing on April 30th in West Chester…
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ME2 Pipeline Cuts Down PA Trees Vacated by Protesters

Bet you didn’t know that if a pipeline company waits until antis leave the treetops where they’ve been perched because of concerns about high winds, and then the pipeline company nips in early in the morning and cuts down those vacated trees (legally), it’s considered a “predawn timbering raid.” That’s the hilarious headline given to yet another anti-pipeline, anti-drilling article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, covering news about cutting down three trees on a property in Huntingdon County, PA. For the past two years the Gerharts have used illegal protest tactics to stall tree cutting on their property. Out-of-state Big Green radicals, along with the Gearharts’ own daughter, have lived on-and-off in the tops of three white pine trees, building magic tree houses so they can lay around and do whatever. The tree occupation has prevented Sunoco Logistics Partners from cutting the trees, which are in the path of the Mariner East 2 pipeline project. At daybreak on Sunday, April 8th, after observing the greenie weenies had left the night before scared of impending high winds, Sunoco snuck in and cut down the trees, much to the consternation of the Gerharts who called it a “underhanded and cowardly attack.” We call it funny! And smart. So much for the dedication of antis. They scamper down trees when it gets a tad windy up there–something to keep in mind…
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