Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has just declared full-on war with Energy Transfer and its Sunoco Logistics subsidiary by directing the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) to suspend all reviews of clean water permit applications and other pending approvals for all of ET/Sunoco’s pipeline projects in the state, including Mariner East 2 (ME2) and the Revolution pipeline project.
The stated reason for the no-new-permits action is lack of progress in fixing eroding, sliding hillsides for the Revolution pipeline project, a 24-inch gathering pipeline in Beaver County, PA (Pittsburgh area) which shifted and exploded last September (see Revolution Pipeline Near Pittsburgh Explodes – Home & Barn Destroyed).
Fortunately, nobody was hurt, although a nearby home, barn and two garages were leveled by fire from the blast. That region, like much of the northeast, had been pounded by rain week after week and month after month. All that rain resulted in a landslide, which caused the explosion.
ET began work to fix it, pushing dirt around the entire 100-mile length of the pipeline to ensure there are no other problems. But a month later, the DEP put a stop to that work, and since that time work has remain stopped (see PA DEP Stops Revolution Pipe Repair Following New Problems).
The DEP hasn’t budged since last October. According to the DEP, ET has not shown it can keep the area “stable enough” to run heavy machinery and fix the ground where the blast occurred. Revolution remains closed down.
Last November, ET filed an appeal with the Environmental Hearing Board to refute the DEP’s stop work order for Revolution. And there it remains, with both sides squabbling. In January, the DEP sent another letter to ET telling them their work on Revolution is not up to scratch (see SWPA Revolution Pipe Still Closed After Explosion; ET, DEP Argue).
Now Wolf and the DEP are escalating the feud by refusing to allow ET to advance any of their pipeline projects in the state. It appears Wolf and the DEP are using a prohibition on ME2 work as a club, as leverage, to get ET to address ongoing issues with Revolution. Which is certain to set off a legal firestorm by ET. Watch for it to happen.
We begin with an announcement by the Wolf-controlled DEP:
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has suspended all reviews of clean water permit applications and other pending approvals associated for Energy Transfer (ET) and subsidiaries until further notice due to non-compliance.
“ETC Northeast Pipeline, operated by ET, failed to comply with the October 29, 2018, order issued following the explosion along the Revolution pipeline on September 10, 2018,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “This hold will continue until the operator corrects their violations to our satisfaction.”
DEP issued the order to ETC Northeast Pipeline, LLC (ETC) in October 2018, with instructions that the operator stabilize disturbed areas and prevent further erosion from the construction area. Multiple inspections by DEP staff, most recently in January 2019, found that ET had not fulfilled the terms of the order and was not progressing toward compliance.
“In October, DEP cited ETC for sediment-laden discharges into waterways, improperly maintained erosion controls, and failure to stabilize disturbed areas,” said McDonnell. “Disappointingly, many of these issues persist.”
DEP issued the October order after inspections discovered violations including unreported landslides, impacts to aquatic resources, construction activities occurring in unpermitted areas, and several sections of the pipeline that required the installation of additional measures to prevent accelerated erosion.
The permit hold will affect an in-service date for the Energy Transfer operated Revolution pipeline, which is not in service, and the Sunoco Pipeline LP (SPLP) Mariner East 2 pipeline, and all other clean water permit applications and approvals. Energy Transfer is the parent company of ETC and SPLP. Mariner East 2 is in service, however there are additional approvals needed for additional pipeline infrastructure as part of the project. There are 27 approvals currently under review by DEP for Mariner East 2.
The permit hold will not apply to any approvals needed for ET to comply with the order, and mitigation and environmental restoration work along Mariner East 2.
“DEP is standing by to approve any work needed to repair the damage caused by ET’s activities and bring the operator back into compliance,” said McDonnell.
DEP may also take additional enforcement action in the future to address these ongoing violations. (1)
The letter DEP sent to ET:
Wolf’s office released the following statement on the same day, obviously timed to come out when the DEP announcement was issued:
//Governor Tom Wolf today released the following statement in response to the Department of Environmental Protection’s suspension of review of all clean water permit applications and other pending approvals associated with the Energy Transfer, L.P. (ET) and subsidiaries until further notice due to non-compliance:
“The Department of Environmental Protection has acted swiftly and decisively to hold this operator accountable to the conditions of its permits. The permit bar by the Department of Environmental Protection is the latest step my Administration has taken to ensure pipeline operators and builders are accountable for the work they do in Pennsylvania. There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities. This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated.”
The permit bar will affect the in-service date for the Revolution pipeline, which is currently not in service, and the Mariner East 2 pipeline. There are 27 approvals currently under review by DEP for Mariner East 2. The Revolution pipeline will remain closed until full compliance has been achieved.
In addition to the permit bar, the governor called on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to continue to hold Energy Transfer (ET) and its subsidiaries accountable to stringent safety requirements which the PUC is charged with enforcing. The governor noted that the budget he proposed earlier this week funds four new gas safety inspectors at the Public Utility Commission’s Pipeline Safety Division to increase the PUC’s capacity to hold pipeline operators accountable and ensure all safety requirements are strictly enforced.”
“Today, I am calling upon the Public Utility Commission to compel ET to address lapses in communication by immediately providing county and municipal agencies responsible for public safety along the Mariner East Project route any and all information required under state and federal law to enable the preparation of robust emergency preparedness and communication plans. I have directed the Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) to coordinate with county and local leadership to assist with review of emergency management plans, and this engagement has already begun.”
“I am also calling upon the PUC to require that a remaining life study of Mariner East 1 be completed and reviewed by independent experts. Such a study should thoroughly evaluate the safety of the existing pipeline and prepare a plan to implement the findings of that study as soon as possible.
State agencies have provided unprecedented oversight over the Mariner East Project, issuing more than 80 violations and levying nearly $13 million in penalties. The Department of Environmental Protection has also implemented significant new processes as a result of the experience gained on a project of unprecedented scope and impact including:
- Improved coordination with the PUC and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC);
- Improved internal coordination and implementation through the establishment of a Regional Pipeline Permitting Coordination Office;
- And the development of new permit conditions and policy guidelines for future pipeline development projects including more than 100 special permit conditions.
Finally, the governor has called on the General Assembly to address gaps in existing law which have tied the hands of the Executive and independent agencies charged with protecting public health, safety and the environment, calling for the speedy passage of the following legislation to protect the public:
- No state agency currently has authority to review intrastate pipeline routes, which can result in pipeline companies deciding to site through densely populated high-consequence areas. Many states have passed legislation providing an enhanced role in siting decisions to their utility or public service commission. Legislation should provide the Public Utility Commission with authority to regulate siting and routing of intrastate pipelines in Pennsylvania.
- Currently, pipeline operators are not required to provide information to schools which are in close proximity to a pipeline, including how to respond to a leak. Legislation should require this information for schools within 1,000 feet of a pipeline.
- Related legislation should require public utility facilities transporting natural gas or natural gas liquids to meet with the county emergency coordinator entrusted to respond in the event of natural gas release and provide vital emergency response and evacuation information.
- In order to respond to a potential leak, automatic or remote shutoff valves are critical. Legislation should require the installation of such valves in high consequence areas in compliance with federal requirements for transmission line valves. (2)
In a statement, ET said:
“[We] have communicated to the DEP and to the governor’s office that we are committed to bringing this project into full compliance with all environmental permits and applicable regulations. This action does not affect the operation of any of our in-service pipelines or any areas of construction where permits have already been issued. We look forward to continuing to work with the DEP throughout this process.” (3)
Mainstream media, via the Associated Press, is reporting the news this way:
Pennsylvania is halting construction permits for natural gas pipelines operated by a company whose pipeline exploded last year, as the governor said Friday that Energy Transfer LP has failed to respect the state’s laws and communities.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said the Texas-based company is not fixing problems related to the explosion, and piled yet another penalty onto a company project in the state.
State agencies already have imposed millions of dollars in fines and several temporary shutdown orders on Energy Transfer projects, while a county prosecutor is demanding documents from the company.
The methane gas explosion destroyed one home in Beaver County last September along the Beaver-to-Butler County pipeline. The Dallas-based firm blamed the blast on “earth movement in the vicinity of the pipeline.”
“There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement Friday. “This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated.”
The Department of Environmental Protection said Energy Transfer hasn’t stabilized the soil and erosion around its Revolution pipeline in western Pennsylvania, as it was ordered to do in October.
As a result, it is halting construction permits on the company’s pipelines in the state, it said.
“This hold will continue until the operator corrects their violations to our satisfaction,” Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement.
Energy Transfer said it told state officials that it is committed to bringing the Revolution pipeline “into full compliance with all environmental permits and applicable regulations.”
In a statement, it said the action did not affect the operation of any of its in-service pipelines or any areas of construction where permits have already been issued.
Energy Transfer’s pipelines in Pennsylvania include the Mariner East 1, 2 and 2X natural gas liquids pipelines across southern Pennsylvania.
A DEP spokesman, Neil Shader, said permits for the 16-inch Mariner East 2X — which has yet to start operating — are now on hold.
Construction on those three pipelines has drawn blame for causing sinkholes and polluting drinking water and waterways across the state.
That has resulted in more than $13 million in fines and several temporary shutdown orders from state agencies, including one last month by the Public Utility Commission that has kept the Mariner East 1 pipeline shut down following a sinkhole that developed in suburban Philadelphia’s Chester County.
Nearby residents worried over sinkholes along the Mariner East pipelines sued Energy Transfer last summer in federal court. Chester County’s district attorney, Tom Hogan, is demanding documents from the company as part of a criminal investigation he opened.
Energy Transfer has said it is confident that it hasn’t violated criminal laws.
Also Friday, Wolf called on the Public Utility Commission to require an independent study to determine how long the Mariner East 1 pipeline can continue operating — it is roughly 80 years old — and asked lawmakers to pass legislation giving the state the power to regulate the routes and safety features of intrastate pipelines. (4)
MDN’s take: While it would be easy to dismiss this action by Wolf as caving to his radical left base, we can’t ignore that ET, among all pipeline companies, seems to have had the most problems with installing pipelines here in the northeast. In Ohio, they nearly drove director of the Ohio EPA, Craig Bulter, insane over problems with the Rover Pipeline project (see Ohio EPA’s Craig Butler Goes Nuts, Demands $2.3M from Rover Pipe). Plenty of landowners in Ohio have complained about ET’s practices in building Rover.
And now, the PA DEP is complaining. We suppose you have to admit where there’s smoke, there’s fire. ET needs to fix what appears to be a broken process.
(1) Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (Feb 8, 2019) – Department of Environmental Protection Issues Hold on All Energy Transfer Clean Water Permit Approvals and Modifications Due to Non-Compliance
(2) Pennsylvania Office of the Governor – Tom Wolf (Feb 8, 2019) – Governor Wolf Issues Statement on DEP Pipeline Permit Bar
(3) Harrisburg (PA) Pennsylvania Capital-Star (Feb 8, 2019) – Pa. government presses pause on permits for Mariner East 2 pipeline parent company
(4) Associated Press (Feb 8, 2019) – Pennsylvania permits halted for Texas-based pipeline company
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