Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
Jim says Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development a/k/a DCED is treating the Mariner East project to an Abbot and Costello routine.
Remember that old Abbott and Costello comedy routine, “Who’s on First?” That aptly describes what appears to be happening at the Pennsylvania Dept. of Community and Economic Development (DCED). PA Gov. Tom Wolf issued an edict several weeks ago that bans businesses from working unless they appear on a list of “life-sustaining” activities, in an effort to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Companies can apply for a waiver if they’re not on the life-sustaining list. The DCED is in charge (if you can call it that) of reviewing and issuing the waivers.
Yesterday, the DCED issued waivers to Energy Transfer to button up some final bits of work on the Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline project in several locations near Philadelphia. A few hours later DCED rescinded/pulled those waivers. What’s going on?
The DCED previously granted some waivers to ME2 on March 26 for work where an immediate cessation of construction could lead to potential adverse impacts on public health or the environment. The deadline to submit waiver requests was Friday, April 3, but the review of those requests can extend long after that deadline. There is no time frame for when DCED may issue a decision on the remaining ME2 waivers.
An article appearing in the Philadelphia Inquirer says “confusion prevails” over the status of ME2 waivers:
The builder of the contested Mariner East pipeline network announced Tuesday night that Pennsylvania had granted additional coronavirus waivers to complete work at several sites on the 350-mile-long project. By Wednesday morning, anti-pipeline activists responded with expressions of outrage.
But in the topsy-turvy world of the COVID-19 crisis, the announcement by Energy Transfer LP seems to have been premature.
The news release announcing the waivers mysteriously vanished Wednesday on Energy Transfer’s website. A few hours later, the Texas company said that the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, which grants waivers to Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus restrictions, had issued the approvals in error.
The agency “notified us Tuesday evening, April 7, that the latest approvals we received for additional construction activity in Pennsylvania were delivered in error and that our waiver requests remain under review by the commonwealth,” Lisa Coleman, an Energy Transfer spokesperson, said in an email. “We are working as quickly as possible to get clarification on the situation and will update you as quickly as possible.” The Mariner East project is being built by Sunoco Pipeline LP, a subsidiary.
The company did not identify locations where it wanted to resume work, but sources said the waiver request cited six sites, including several in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Energy Transfer, in its premature news release, said its appeal argued that work needed to be completed at several sites because unfinished they might present a safety and security risk.
It’s unclear what exactly happened in Harrisburg to recall the approval. Rachel Wrigley, a DCED spokesperson, acknowledged the agency issued a waiver on Monday, and pulled it back Tuesday, but did not provide an explanation why. Kurt Knaus, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance — a pro-pipeline organized labor advocacy group that on Tuesday lauded the state’s waivers — said he knew nothing about the state’s reversal.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, a Chester County Democrat and a Mariner East opponent, said he also had no insight into DCED’s decision, but said he was “pleasantly surprised” that somebody in the Wolf administration apparently had second thoughts about green-lighting more work on the pipeline.
DCED’s nondecision does not mean that pipeline work has stopped.
The agency on March 26 allowed Energy Transfer to complete pipeline construction work at 17 locations across Pennsylvania, after the company appealed directly to Wolf’s office for waivers from the emergency coronavirus shutdown.
That work continues, despite an April 2 appeal from the Clean Air Council, an advocacy group, that the state cancel those waivers.
Shortly after the DCED waivers were issued, the anti-fossil fuel lobby at the Dragonpipe Diary geared up to express their outrage, flooding DCED and Gov. Wolf’s office with messages:
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with thousands of Pennsylvania businesses shut down because they are “non-life-sustaining”, Sunoco is being permitted to resume Mariner East work at a second batch of sites.
The agency in charge of approving these waivers is called the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). Sunoco has apparently bamboozled them into believing that “an extended period of shutdown presents a serious concern for safety and security, and/or an extended period of cessation of construction may result in potential adverse impacts to human health or the environment,” as Sunoco’s press release says.
That’s ridiculous. As the Clean Air Council has shown, in its careful analysis of Sunoco’s first round of waivers, the bulk of the work Sunoco wants to do is NOT life-sustaining. Sunoco’s application for the second-round waivers has not been made public (as far as I know), but these are bound to be even less critical than the first batch.
As others have pointed out, during previous construction shutdowns, no safety problems have arisen. To claim “adverse impacts to human health or the environment” now is nonsense—but it appears to have convinced the DCED.
It is time to contact the DCED and tell them to revoke these waivers, as well as the previous batch. Not only does this work fail the “life-sustaining” test, these pipeline workers are liable to be spreading Covid-19 along the entire pipeline route.
Call the DECD at 866-466-3972 or visit their contact page for other methods: https://dced.pa.gov/contact-us/.
While you’re at it, call the Governor: 717-787-2500.
This must stop.
The DCED pulled the waivers a few hours after issuing them, prompting ET to issue this announcement:
The Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development notified us the evening of Tuesday, April 7, that the latest approvals we received for additional construction activity in Pennsylvania were delivered in error and that our waiver requests remain under review by the commonwealth. We are working to get clarification on the situation and will update you as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, we continue the construction-related activity that was exempted and/or previously approved by the commonwealth, which allows us to safely secure, stabilize and move equipment, as needed, to prevent potential impacts to safety and the environment.
In late March, the commonwealth determined that waivers were not needed to continue monitoring and maintaining the rights-of-way and work sites associated with our construction projects in Pennsylvania, including Mariner East 2. Additionally, our pipeline systems and facilities that are in service have been deemed life-sustaining activities and will continue to safely operate. We are also continuing maintenance work on these assets.
As for the construction activity that remains temporarily halted, we remain engaged with regulators, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), to ensure that all of our sites are maintained in accordance with our existing permits.
Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance (and an advocate for ME2) issued the following statement following these latest developments:
“Pipeline and utility work, including critical construction and maintenance, are essential for public well-being. This work must continue, especially where halting work could pose a potential risk to the environment or public health, as is the case with drilling, boring and erosion controls related to this project. The Mariner East pipeline network delivers products that are essential components to things such as transportation fuels and heating fuels as well as the manufacture of medical supplies and personal protective equipment that rely on these byproducts as a feedstock. Every effort is being made to ensure this project is being developed safely and operated responsibly. That means allowing work to continue where it is essential, environmentally sound, and safe for workers.”
We’ll tell you what this looks like to us: A bunch of loud-mouthed anti-fossil fuelers made noise, and the DCED reacted. The waivers were issued and then pulled a few hours after blowback from loudmouths. Really?
An ethane pipeline being built by Shell in western PA was allowed to restart work as a “life-sustaining” activity even though construction on the cracker plant Shell is building to process the ethane that will flow through that pipeline is currently shut dow. Why is Shell allowed to work on its pipeline, but Energy Transfer is not (yet) allowed to work on its? What (double) standard is being applied here by DCED?
This post appeared first on Natural Gas Now.