Since January 20, all of Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline has been shut down on the orders of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (see All of Mariner East 1 NGL Pipe Shut Down Indefinitely by PA PUC). As of today, just over three full months later, the PUC is finally allowing ME1 to restart service, after agreeing to a number of “safety” measures.
Why was ME1 shut down? In January a new sinkhole appeared in Chester County, PA (near Philadelphia), exposing a tiny section of ME1 and prompting Sunoco to close down ME1 in the Greater Philadelphia area (see New Mariner East 1 Sinkhole Appears, PA PUC Shuts Down Pipeline). PUC investigators closed down the remainder of ME1 shortly thereafter. All because a few feet of bare pipe was showing. The pipe wasn’t even leaking! Yet a small section of exposed pipe on one side of the state was enough for the PUC to bring the hammer down on the pipeline across the entire state.
But now, with certain assurances and promises of forfeiting their firstborn children, Sunoco has won the right to restart ME1. Engineers from the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Pipeline Safety Division will be on site at Sunoco’s offices today to monitor startup procedures.
On Friday the PUC issued the following notification:
The Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) – the independent investigation and enforcement bureau of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) – today received notice from Sunoco Pipeline LP, a/k/a Energy Transfer Partners (SPLP or Sunoco), of Sunoco’s intent to restart the Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline. Sunoco will also take a series of additional steps to address safety concerns regarding the Mariner East Pipelines.
Mariner East 1 (ME1) has been out of service since Jan. 20, 2019, as engineers from I&E’s Pipeline Safety Division monitored stabilization and remediation efforts undertaken by SPLP following a subsidence event or “sinkhole” that exposed a small segment of the pipeline along Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County.
The January agreement between I&E and Sunoco related to the voluntary shutdown of ME1 required 72-hour notice of intent to restart that pipeline. Notice was provided to I&E at approximately 3 p.m. today.
Engineers from I&E’s Pipeline Safety Division will be on site at Sunoco’s offices on Monday, April 22, to monitor startup procedures.
Enhanced Safety Actions
Enhanced safety actions to be undertaken by Sunoco include:
- I&E and Sunoco have agreed upon a plan to further remediate the Lisa Drive area surrounding ME1. The site remediation plan will contain a going-forward approach based on all data collected to date. The site remediation plan will also consider the impact of the planned or anticipated open trench excavation of the 20-inch Mariner East 2 line, and the plan will be submitted to I&E for review by I&E’s consultants.
- SPLP will commit personnel to walk the Lisa Drive section of ME1 daily, except where inclement weather would put personnel in danger, until the grouting along ME1 is complete. SPLP will further provide I&E with summary reports describing the observations recorded during each visual inspection.
- Sunoco will perform geophysical tests in the right-of-way area behind Lisa Drive every six months for two years, and report the findings to I&E.
- SPLP will maintain the existing top-of-pipe elevation survey locations and strain gauges on this section of ME1 and will continuously monitor strain gauge data in its control room that is staffed 24/7, and routinely provide reports to I&E.
I&E also noted the following regarding the ongoing safety monitoring of the Mariner East pipelines:
- SPLP installed strain gauges on ME1 in the Lisa Drive area in 2018. The strain gauge data to date has not revealed any movement of ME1 before, during or after the subsidence event. SPLP conducts remote monitoring of the strain gauges from its control room which includes the ability to react to any aberrations to strain readings including shutting down the line section at issue.
- SPLP’s work to stabilize the ground in the vicinity of this latest subsidence near Lisa Drive has been constantly monitored by I&E’s Pipeline Safety personnel and geophysical consultants. I&E’s geophysical and engineering experts have met and conferred with SPLP and its geophysical experts on numerous occasions during the past three months.
About the Bureau of Investigation & Enforcement
As the independent investigation and enforcement bureau of the PUC, I&E enforces state and federal pipeline safety and motor carrier safety laws and regulations and represents the public interest in ratemaking and service matters before the PUC’s Office of Administrative Law Judge. I&E has the authority to bring enforcement action, seek emergency orders from the Commission or take other steps to ensure public safety. (1)
This is how biased StateImpact Pennsylvania “reporter” Jon Hurdle “reports” the news:
Sunoco plans to restart the controversial Mariner East 1 pipeline on Monday afternoon after agreeing to new safety measures demanded by Public Utility Commission inspectors.
The PUC said Sunoco gave 72 hours’ notice on Friday afternoon of its intention to restart the natural-gas liquids line, which was shut off Jan. 20 after a section was exposed by a sinkhole at Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County.
After discussions with the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, Sunoco has agreed to inspect Mariner East 1 daily until it completes grouting along the Lisa Drive section of the line, as well as report its findings to the bureau and perform geophysical tests of the land there every six months for two years.
The company also agreed to use a strain gauge, an instrument that measures force and pressure, to monitor any underground movement of the pipeline, which runs through an unstable limestone formation and a few yards from a line of suburban houses.
Sunoco has used the instrument at Lisa Drive since 2018, the PUC said and has not detected any movement of Mariner East 1 before, during or after the latest sinkhole appeared on Jan. 20.
Engineers from the bureau’s Pipeline Safety Division will be on site on Monday to monitor the restart, the PUC said in a statement.
Opponents of the multibillion-dollar Mariner East project say the 8-inch-diameter Mariner East 1 line is a particular cause for concern because it was first built in the 1930s, has a history of leaks, and has been recently repurposed from carrying gasoline to carrying highly volatile natural-gas liquids.
In April 2017, the line leaked about 20 barrels of ethane and propane at Morgantown, Berks County, in an incident that PUC inspectors later attributed to corrosion. Sunoco agreed in early April this year to pay a $200,000 fine for the Morgantown leak, and to monitor the line more rigorously.
In May 2018, a PUC administrative judge shut down operation of Mariner East 1 and construction of the adjacent Mariner East 2, a 20-inch-diameter line, at Lisa Drive after the appearance of an earlier series of sinkholes. Judge Elizabeth Barnes said public safety was at risk because the operational line was running through unstable ground on the same right-of-way where the new line was being built. Her ruling was later reversed by the full PUC.
Concerns about the safety of the aging line were underlined by Gov. Tom Wolf, who in February ordered the PUC to conduct an “end of life” study on it, using independent experts.
Sunoco, a unit of Energy Transfer, has said throughout the troubled two-year construction of the new Mariner East pipelines that they meet or exceed all state and federal safety regulations. But the parent company has recently acknowledged its mistakes during the project and promised to stop further errors such as drilling mud spills and the disturbance of private water wells.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement to restart Mariner East 1.
Critics of the Mariner East project say the pipelines represent a grave risk to public safety because any leak of natural-gas liquids in densely populated areas like West Whiteland could result in an explosion and heavy loss of life.
Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, a coalition of community groups in Delaware and Chester counties, said Sunoco’s new assurances to the PUC inspectors don’t make the line any safer.
“Applicable rules require the PUC to obtain credible guidance for the public to use in the event of continued leaks from Sunoco’s Mariner East pipelines,” the group said in a statement on Saturday. “Yet PUC has not done so. PUC clearly is offering no assurances against further leaks. So its policy, evidently, is to hope for the best.”
Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a PUC spokesman, responded to the Del-Chesco statement, saying that the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement has been in “extensive discussions” with Sunoco over the project at Lisa Drive and that the company has taken “numerous additional steps” in response to concerns raised by inspectors.
He said the new agreement has no impact on “more than half a dozen” other complaints related to the Mariner East project that is being litigated before the PUC.
The Mariner East pipelines carry ethane, propane and butane some 350 miles from southwest Pennsylvania and Ohio to a terminal at Marcus Hook, Delaware County, where most of the material is exported for plastics manufacture overseas. The newest section of the project, Mariner East 2, began operating on Dec. 29, 2018. (2)
Although the pipeline was originally built in the 1930s, pieces of it have been replaced over time. And with proper cathodic treatment and grounding, pipelines can last for well over 100 years. Hurdle conveniently leaves that part out of his “reporting” on the “old” ME1 pipeline.
(1) Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (Apr 19, 2019) – Sunoco Provides Notice of Intent to Restart Mariner East 1 Pipeline; Additional Safety Steps to be Taken Related to Mariner Pipelines
(2) Philadelphia (PA) WHYY PBS (Apr 21, 2019) – Sunoco to restart Mariner East 1 pipeline after agreeing to new safety measures
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