Judge Orders Halt To Horizontal Drilling For Mariner East 2 Pipeline

from Unicorn Riot

Harrisburg, PA – On Tuesday, July 25, a judge on Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board ordered a temporary stop to all horizontal drilling operations underway to construct the Mariner East 2 pipeline. The ruling against Sunoco Logistics (which recently merged with Energy Transfer Partners) was issued as part of an ongoing lawsuit by Clean Air Council and other environmental groups. It requires the pipeline company to cease all horizontal drilling activities, but permits other construction activities, including non-horizontal drilling, to continue.

One day earlier, on July 24, a Public Utilities Commission judge had also ruled to grant an emergency order sought by West Goshen Township to “cease and desist all current construction” in their area. West Goshen alleges Sunoco violated the terms of a Settlement Agreement made with the township in 2015 by building on township property without permission, ignoring local regulations, and parking in front of the local fire department’s driveway.

Pipeline contractors employed by Sunoco Logistics have had a series of “inadvertent returns (drilling slurry spills into groundwater) along the pipeline route, including but not limited to; spills in Chester County, Blair County, Delaware County, Westmoreland County, Washington County, Allegheny County, Indiana County, and Huntingdon County.

According to Clean Air Council, court filings made last week “disclosed 61 drilling fluid spills and water contamination in multiple Pennsylvania regions.”

Earlier this month, we visited neighborhoods in Chester County where drilling leaks in West Whiteland Township had ruined local sources of drinking water.

The $2.5 billion dollar pipeline would carry natural gas liquids such as propane, ethane, and butane from frack fields in Scio, Ohio, across West Virginia and Pennsylvania to export terminals at Marcus Hook, near Philadelphia, where they would be shipped across the sea for use by the European plastics industry.

In Huntingdon, in central Pennsylvania, tree-sits at Camp White Pine have blocked the Mariner East 2 right-of-way for many months. Sunoco work crews began preemptively clearing trees on the Gerhart family’s property in 2015, bringing sheriffs’ deputies who arrested several people. Many trees of a conserved forest plot were cut down but some trees were occupied, and remain to this day as part of a tree-sit village. Sunoco is active in areas near Camp White Pine, but despite a recent court injunction giving police more authority to make arrests on the family’s private property, they have not yet tried to retake their eminent domain easement on the Gerhart’s land.

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The order to halt horizontal directional drilling lasts until the next Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board hearing on August 7. Sunoco reportedly expects to be able to resume drilling after the hearing, promising to “demonstrate that we have expended every effort to meet the strict conditions of our environmental permits.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015 by Clean Air Council, Mountain Watershed Association, Inc., and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network seeks to stop Mariner East 2 entirely, asserts that permits from the Department of Environmental Protection “failed to adequately address the severe negative impacts of the pipeline project on Pennsylvania’s streams, wetlands and forests.” The case heads to trial at Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court later this year.

Sunoco Faces Backlash After Repeated Pipeline Drilling Spills

from Unicorn Riot

West Whiteland Township, PA – Construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline faces several new obstacles as local authorities and the public respond to a series of drilling accidents.

Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners recently voluntarily stopped construction in certain areas where horizontal directional drilling for the pipeline had contaminated local water sources. After a meeting with township officials on Friday, July 14, the company announced that it was halting drilling operations in Chester County “indefinitely.” The horizontal directional drill (HDD) has been withdrawn from the site at Whiteland West Apartments where it had been active until last week, and has been sitting unused in the parking lot at St Peter and Paul Catholic Church and School.

It is unclear how long drilling in the area will stop, and if construction activities other than drilling are still taking place. Sunoco Logistics reportedly intends to blame Union Pipeline contractors, who had been operating the drill in Chester County, and replace them with workers from Michels Corporation, a pipeline contractor known for its work on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines.

Sunoco admitted puncturing an aquifer in Exton while drilling on June 22, and has offered bottled water and hotel vouchers to over a dozen residents whose water supply either disappeared or was tainted. The incident has been described as an “inadvertent return” – an accidental process in which a chemical slurry of underground drilling lubricants ends up flowing back towards the surface, contaminating any local waterways in its path.

Contaminated water from a tainted well in West Whiteland Township

Sunoco has paid to attach several homes to the public water system after their private wells were tainted with drilling slurry containing chemicals. However, problems with the aquifer feeding the public water system have also been reported since drilling began last month. Before residents started reporting contaminated water, the company had ignored requirements to notify downstream residents 72 hours before starting to drill.

Permitting paperwork from February of this year shows both Sunoco and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection were aware that drilling was likely to damage the local aquifer. Despite this knowledge, Sunoco was given regulators’ blessing to drill anyway.

Earlier this month we heard from affected residents in Chester County about how pipeline drilling accidents are impacting their neighborhoods and their lives:

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Water contamination from drilling has also been reported in other counties along the route of Mariner East 2. Blair County reported an ‘inadvertent return’ earlier this month. On Monday, July 17, another drilling spill was reported at a Mariner East 2 HDD site in Middletown, PA, in Delaware County:

On Monday July 17th, Middletown Township reported to residents that the township had been made aware of a bentonite spill at Sunoco’s HDD drilling site behind Tunbridge apartments. Middletown Township reported that they had been notified around 4:30pm, and that PADEP had also been notified and was responding to the event. It is reported that the spill reached Chester Creek. – Middletown Coalition for Community Safety

On Tuesday July 18, a Middletown resident posted a video of the drilling spill site to Facebook and noted how contractors’ efforts to contain the spill seemed inadequate.

Sunoco had previously spilled drilling slurry into Chester Creek in Delaware County earlier this year while drilling in Brookhaven on May 10. The Middletown Coalition for Community Safety is demanding that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revoke “prematurely issued water obstruction and encroachment permits” for Mariner East 2 as well as calling for a moratorium on all pipeline construction. State Senator Andy Dinniman, of West Whiteland Township, also alleges that Sunoco used loopholes in DEP regulations to ignore potential impacts private wells when applying for permits.

Additionally, Sunoco is facing legal action from the Chester County township of West Goshen, which seeks an injunction to immediately and indefinitely halt construction on Mariner East 2. West Goshen Township supervisors, who voted unanimously to petition Pennsylvania’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for an emergency order, allege that Sunoco began pipeline construction at an unapproved location without notifying them or asking for their permission. Township officials also say Sunoco pipeline crews ignored local construction and safety regulations, and have repeatedly blocked the driveway to the local fire department with their vehicles.

Several hundred miles west in the Susquehanna Valley in central Pennsylvania, tree-sits at Camp White Pine still block Mariner East 2’s route through Huntingdon County. The property is owned by the Gerhart family, who have refused to allow pipeline work crews onto their property despite repeated rulings against them by local courts on behalf on Sunoco. Huntingdon County judge Georce Zanic recently approved an injunction sought by Sunoco to allow police to arrest the Gerharts (and/or their supporters) on their own property at the pipeline company’s request.

One of several tree-sit pods at Camp White Pine, on the route of Mariner East 2 in Huntingdon, PA

With drilling paused in Chester County, the blockades at Camp White Pine still in place, and neighborhoods along the route self-organizing to respond to pipeline safety issues, hundreds of miles of Mariner East 2 are still incomplete. Nonetheless, Sunoco Logistics (‘an Energy Transfer company’) claims the pipeline will be operational sometime this year. The line would carry liquified gases such as ethane, butane, and propane from frack fields in Scio, Ohio across Pennsylvania to export terminals at Marcus Hook, where it would then be shipped across the Atlantic to a plastics company in Scotland.

Stay tuned to Unicorn Riot for more updates as we continue to report on this unfolding story.

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Drilling for Mariner East 2 Pipeline Contaminates Drinking Water

from Unicorn Riot

West Whiteland Township, PA – Residents along the construction route of Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East 2 pipeline are reporting contamination in their water after pipeline drilling accidents led to a chemical slurry compromising a well, which then tainted another well and several aquifers.

Over the last few weeks, neighborhoods in Chester County west of Philadelphia began experiencing stomach aches, and noticed their water was sometimes brown in color, contained sediment and bacteria, and smelled of chlorine.

When people started to notice problems with their water, neighbors connected through the Uwchlan Safety Coalition, a local community organization addressing ongoing health and safety issues posed by Mariner East 2. Sunoco offered many affected residents hotel vouchers and compensation for meals, and provided pallets of bottled water, while avoiding taking direct responsibility for the contamination. (Sunoco recently merged with Energy Transfer Partners, known for building the Dakota Access Pipeline.)

Contaminated water from a tainted well in West Whiteland Township

Continued drilling operations threaten to entirely destroy the safety of area wells, which would force those relying on well water to hook up to the public water system. While Sunoco has offered various forms of compensation for issues with private wells, those on the local public water system have also been reporting stomachaches after drinking water that smelled like chlorine.

Correspondence between Sunoco Logistics and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) shows that both Sunoco and DEP officials knew that drilling in certain geological formations in the Exton area could damage the local water table.

Before DEP eventually approved the permit under political pressure, permitting paperwork noted,

Karst area near Exton and the East Whiteland compressor branch present additional risks of IRs [inadvertent returns] during HDD…There are carbonate rocks, karst surface depressions; and identification of other public water supplies (groundwater or surface water) within one mile… Groundwater impacts from an inadvertent return cannot be directly visually observed from the surface. Any loss of circulation is the only indicator of drilling fluid migrating out of the borehole into the groundwater.

Sunoco representatives downplayed the risks from the drilling slurry (a mixture of chemicals and mud) in conversations with affected residents, comparing the bentonite clay to cat litter or the foundation used in makeup. Earlier this year, Energy Transfer Partners spilled two million gallons of drilling liquids into Ohio wetlands while constructing the Rover Pipeline, leading to a $430,000 fine and the temporary suspension of their horizontal directional drilling operations.

In West Whiteland, horizontal direction drill (HDD) operations were paused for a few days but resumed again on Saturday, July 8, despite objections by local lawmakers. Drilling is taking place on the grounds of the Whiteland West Apartments, a development with 377 housing units.

Contractors employed by Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners are currently operating an HDD hidden from public view using poles on sheets and wooden boards.

An open air waste pit for drilling waste is set up adjacent to the drill at the Whiteland West Apartments, a stone’s throw from some resident’s balconies.

Open air pit for storing Mariner East 2 drilling waste at Whiteland West Apartments

On July 3, a Uwchlan Township resident posted a picture showing how a new pipeline work site had taken up much of the playground area at her child’s daycare.

Photo challenge day #3 I don’t use Instagram but I downloaded it just to post this picture for our officials to see what is happening. I don’t have an easement on my house BUT this is the daycare my child goes to. Their beautiful green outdoor play space that once had tall trees to shade them is now about 3 feet away from a fence/wall where the pipeline is being built right on the other side!!! The trees are taken down and the dust and debris that are flying around can’t be good for them. Then when it’s all done if there should be a leak, I can’t even imagine that outcome! This is what people are living with. How can those in power allow corporations to do this? #pipeline #pipelinesafety #uwchlantwppa #uwchlanpa #chestercounty #chesco #pennsylvania #makeadifference #photooftheday #marinereast2 #change #trending #natgas #photoofthedaychallenge #frommypointofview #lionville #community #communityaction #6abcaction #cbsphilly Governor Tom Wolf, Senator Pat Toomey, U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Congressman Ryan Costello, PA State Rep. Becky Corbin, Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, John C. Rafferty, Jr. 6abc Action News, NBC10 Philadelphia, The Daily Local News, Philadelphia Inquirer, CBS Philly

A post shared by Tay Thieu (@tthieu33) on Jul 3, 2017 at 4:33pm PDT

Starting at frack fields in Scio, eastern Ohio, Mariner East 2 will carry highly explosive natural gas liquids such as propane, butane, and ethane across Pennsylvania to export terminals at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia.

These gases could be easily ignited by everyday appliances in the event of a leak. Many local schools, homes, and an assisted living facility are all well within the blast radius should leaked gases explode.

Mariner East 2 construction outside an elderly assisted living facility in Exton, PA

Glenwood Elementary in Media, PA has been conducting emergency evacuation drills with students to prepare for a potential pipeline leak explosion.

Quest Consultants, an independent firm hired by Middletown Township to evaluate the risks from a potential pipeline explosion, ran several detailed statistical simulations of potential leak scenarios. An analysis of data from previous spills estimates “that a leak will occur along the shared route once every 2.5 months.

On April 1, the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which Mariner East 2 will run parallel to, leaked 20 barrels of propane, ethane and butane in Berks County, PA.  An explosion from a leaking natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania last year set fire to forty acres of land, and left a 26-year old father covered in severe burns. Sunoco has one of the worst pipeline safety records of any company in the business.

The fracking and pipeline industries in Pennsylvania, assisted by Governor Tom Wolfe’s task force to accelerate pipeline construction, have been aggressively expanding new infrastructure throughout Chester County and many other areas of Pennsylvania.

Affected residents living in and along the path of Mariner East 2 across the state have been raising objections and resisting in various ways. Sunoco claims the natural gas liquids pipeline will be in operation this year; hundreds of miles of the route are still incomplete as of this writing.

Military intelligence contractor Tigerswan, which worked for Energy Transfer Partners behind the scenes to disrupt and discredit the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, is monitoring opposition to Mariner East 2 in Pennsylvania. A consulting firm called Bravo Group boasts on its website about its contract for Sunoco Logistics to “neutralize opposition” to Mariner East 2 – a vague mission which presumably includes keeping tabs on everyone from blockaders at Camp White Pine to the various neighborhood-based Safety Coalitions formed in townships along the pipeline route.

Camp White Pine Blockades Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Central Pennsylvania

from Unicorn Riot

Huntingdon, PA – After receiving all necessary permits from state regulatory agencies in February, Sunoco Logistics has been pushing ahead with construction of the Mariner 2 East Pipeline. Sunoco Logistics Partners and Energy Transfer Partners, announced the completion of their corporate merger on April 28.  President Donald Trump is an investor in the company.

Mariner 2 follows the route of Mariner 1, a repurposed oil pipeline which carries natural gas liquids (NGLs) to the east coast for export.  Mariner 2 would follow roughly the same route, stretching over three hundred miles across the state of Pennsylvania from frack fields in Scio, Ohio to bring propane, ethane and other fracking byproducts to Marcus Hook, a refinery and export hub just south of Philadelphia. While Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners promotes the pipeline with rhetoric about American energy independence, the natural gas liquids transported by Mariner East 2 are primarily for export to the European plastics industry.

Map of the Mariner East 2 construction route

Many counties and municipalities have contested the pipeline’s route through their communities, only to be overruled by state officials, who claim that their decision to classify the pipeline as a “public utility” means it is in the state’s interest to make sure the pipeline is completed, and that townships and municipalities may not act against the interests of the Commonwealth. The highly explosive nature of the natural gas liquids carried by the pipeline means that the various homes, businesses, and schools could be incinerated in a natural gas fireball in the event a leak occurs and then is ignited by a motor, cell phone, or many other everyday appliances.

Despite being an interstate pipeline, Mariner East 2 is not regulated by any federal agency. It is primarily regulated by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, an industry-friendly agency known for issuing permits despite not having enough staff or funding to properly oversee permitted projects.

The primary obstacle to the completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline has been the Gerhart family in rural Huntingdon, whose property has been condemned for eminent domain. In March 2016 landowner Ellen Gerhart and several supporters of the Gerhart family were arrested by Pennsylvania State Police after people climbed trees to prevent them from being cut, in violation of a court order telling the Gerharts to not interfere with any pipeline work being done under her property.  (See video from that day here.)

All charges against those arrested on the Gerhart’s land in 2016 were eventually dismissed after 8 months of court proceedings.  The 80-year-old forest, now mostly clearcut by pipeline workers, was a treasured part of the Gerhart family’s home, as they had placed the land into forest stewardship with the hopes of preserving it for generations to come.

The combination of tree-sits, defensive measures, and supporters gathered on the Gerhart’s land has come to be known as ‘Camp White Pine’ – an homage to the numerous white pine trees which still populate the area.

 

A rare “Writ of Possession” was granted to Sunoco Logistics by a local judge, allowing them greater authority to enforce their eminent domain rights on the Gerhart’s property- including using law enforcement to remove landowners from their own property.  Ignoring orders from County Judge George Zanic made on behalf of the pipeline company, the Gerharts and their supporters have created what is said to be the most complex tree-sit operation on the east coast.

 

While construction crews have not yet encroached this year on the fortified tree-sits where Camp White Pine still stands, despite having been granted eminent domain for the area, construction on Mariner East 2 continues in surrounding areas.

On Monday May 22, pipeline work crews arrived without notice on Ralph Blume’s farm near Newville, PA and began cutting trees.  The Cumberland County Sheriff was there to intercept Mr. Blume when he came to confront workers who he said promised him they would give advance notice before working on his property, which they did not.  The sheriff told Mr. Blume he would not arrest him, which Resist Sunoco PA speculated was “because Sunoco didn’t want the bad publicity that would come with arresting a 77 year-old man.”

 

Energy Transfer Partners has already had accidents and spills while constructing the Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Pennsylvania.  On May 3, a large slurry of drilling fluid spilled into Chester Creek as drilling for Mariner East 2 was being done in Delaware County, PA. Work crews placed sandbags around the slurry, which was an ineffective means of containing the spill as the water simply rose above the sandbags and spread the slurry downstream.  The drilling fluid contains bentonite clay, which is known to be deadly to aquatic wildlife.  The original Mariner East 1 pipeline also leaked 20 barrels of ethane and and propane on in Berks County on April 1.

On June 29, Huntingdon County George Zanic issued a new injunction requested by Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners authorizing the arrest of anyone on the Gerhart property who impedes pipeline construction.  Neither Judge Zanic or any employee of his court informed the Gerharts of the injunction made against them on behalf of the company, they only heard about it after being questioned by news reporters.

The new injunction means pipeline workers, accompanied by police who may target and arrest landowners on their own property, could arrive on the Gerhart’s land any day now. When we asked Elise Gerhart what she expected, she told us,

I expect them to come with brute force. That’s how they’ve done it in the past, that’s what we saw at Standing Rock… that’s the way that they do it. If they can’t trick you, they bully you. If they can’t bully you, then they attack you. So, that is what I expect…they want to build this pipeline and we’ve seen, when Energy Transfer Partners wants to build a pipeline, they’re willing to physically hurt people to get them out of the way. And we’ve seen how the police are complicit with that. At this point I am expecting to go to jail, potentially for an extended period of time, I’ve been trying to prepare for that. All I can say is that sometimes you just have to do what’s right. You have to try and protect yourself from harm, and we’re just trying to do everything we can to do that.         -Elise Gerhart

An investigation by The Intercept into the private security firm Tigerswan, now known for their illegal operations in North Dakota to protect the Dakota Access Pipeline, shows the mercenary contractor is also monitoring opposition to Mariner East 2. Tigerswan advisory board member James Marks was also found to have written an editorial for PennLive.com attacking opponents of Mariner East 2, without disclosing his personal connections to a firm employed to harass pipeline opponents.

lawsuit by Clean Air Council, set for trial this December in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, could possibly stop the pipeline based on issues with its permitting and use of eminent domain.  In the meantime, construction continues, and local authorities (the Huntingdon County Sheriff and Pennsylvania State Police) have historically been quick to respond to the pipeline company’s requests to repress their opposition. The Huntingdon County Sheriff has not yet responded to our request for comment.

We spoke at length earlier this year with Elise Gerhart about her family’s fight against Mariner East 2 on their property, the direct action tree sits at Camp White Pine, and how the pipeline fight in Huntingdon connects to broader struggles across the state and the country.  Read or listen to the interview here.

“We’ve Got No Choice”: Interview with Elise Gerhart of Camp White Pine

from Unicorn Riot

Huntingdon County, PA – In May, Unicorn Riot visited Camp White Pine, a direct action encampment on the Gerhart family’s property in the hills of Huntingdon County, PA. Several tree-sits currently sit on the easement for the Mariner East 2 pipeline, where Sunoco has claimed eminent domain to build the pipeline against the property owner’s consent. Read our report here.

We spoke with Elise Gerhart for almost two hours about the history of her family’s property, their struggle against encroachment by Sunoco, and what she expects in the fight ahead. We also discussed regulatory corruption in Pennsylvania, law enforcement responses to pipeline resistance, and the implications for climate activism in the post-Standing Rock era.

Listen to the interview below (1 hr 38 mins) or click here to download

[Interview transcript below the cut]

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Urgent Bail and Legal Funds Need for Camp White Pine

From It’s Going Down

Donate Here

For over a year now, the Gerhart family and a huge number of dedicated volunteers have been working to stop the Mariner East 2 pipeline from being built, putting too many miles of beautiful Pennsylvania forests, streams, and wetlands at risk.

As a last resort, volunteers have taken to the trees and used direct action to stop this pipeline from being built. Arrests while non-violently defending this land are probable, and the right of the Gerharts to maintain their property have already been violated.

Pennsylvania judges have a nasty habit of imposing harsh and unreasonable bail and legal costs on people arrest for environmental direct action. Please support these brave volunteers by donating to their bail and legal fund. We already have a lawyer in place who is ready to defend any arrested individuals, but there are many costs associated with legal defense. Ever dollar helps!

Fighting Pipelines and Displacement with Camp White Pine

from It’s Going Down

What would you do if your family’s home was threatened by eminent domain to make way for a pipeline of fracked gas? Would you roll over? Give up? Take the money and run? Or would you stand and fight?

This interview, with Camp White Pine, details how one family in Pennsylvania stood up to a pipeline which is threatening to not only evict them from their home, but also build a pipeline which would pollute watersheds and ecosystems in the local area. From their Facebook page:

With construction season upon us, Camp White Pine is digging in our heels to fight the Mariner East 2 pipeline in the Susquehanna Valley of so-called Central PA on occupied Shawnee, Lenape, and Susquehannock Territories.

The Mariner East 2 is a 350+ mile long Sunoco pipeline project, comprised of two new pipelines starting in southeastern Ohio, and running through northern West Virginia and across the length of Pennsylvania. These lines will carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) like butane, ethane, and propane to an export facility along the Delaware River in Marcus Hook, PA.

Resistance to the Mariner East 2 is spreading, with impacted residents and organizers working in communities all along the proposed route. Sunoco Logistics has no regard for the beauty of Appalachia, the preservation of its diverse ecosystems and the safety of the people who live here.

We also discuss the harassment, threats, and attacks that both law enforcement and corporations have leveled against those who are standing up for themselves, as well as the connections between the #NoDAPL struggle and ongoing pipeline battles happening across the US.

More Info: Bail Fund Donate Here, Camp White Pine Facebook

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[June 11th 4-6PM
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$5-15]