Last week the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) temporarily halted construction on the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline which will transport fracked gas liquids over 300 miles across the state of Pennsylvania.
Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, the notorious company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, is building the Mariner East 2 and during construction has confirmed the fears of every water protector at Standing Rock, causing multiple cases of water contamination across Pennsylvania.
A DEP document lists pages and pages of inadvertent returns, or drilling fluid spills, going back to May 2017.
The DEP order, issued on January 3rd, suspends all construction on the pipeline citing “egregious and willful violations”. In addition to the dozens of cases of inadvertent returns, the order lists multiple instances across the state where Sunoco conducted horizontal directional drilling through sensitive waterways without the correct permits.
“Until Sunoco can demonstrate that the permit conditions can and will be followed, DEP has no alternative but to suspend the permits,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
Many community members living along the pipeline route have little faith that Sunoco will follow the order and criticize the DEP for granting the company the permits to begin with.
“There is so much stuff they're doing wrong, it’s a danger to people and property,” Ralp Blume, an impacted landowner in Cumberland County told PennLive. “It should have been stopped a long time ago.”
The Blumes haven’t been able to use their water since June. It became contaminated when Sunoco stripped land for the pipeline causing water with iron bacteria to flow towards their house and into their hand dug well. Their case isn’t even listed in the DEP order even though Blume has contacted the department about it many times.
Sunoco denies they caused the water contamination, but as “good neighbors” have offered to install an iron filtration system for the Blumes. Ralph doesn’t believe that will work and has asked Sunoco to drill a new well.
“They’re just trying to get away with something that’s real cheap and ya know bury me in the ditch with the rest of their junk,” said Blume.
The Blumes fought construction of the pipeline on their property from the beginning but there was little they could do once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Sunoco the ability to seize their land through eminent domain.
The fracked gas liquids that will be transported by the pipeline from the Marcellus and Utica shale areas are destined for an export facility in Marcus Hook, PA and will be used for plastic production in Europe, begging the question as to what public good the project serves, a requirement for granting eminent domain.
“Most people aren’t duped into believing this is really for the public good,” said Elise Gerhart, an impacted landowner in Huntingdon, PA. “They’re just bullied into believing that you can’t do anything to stop it.”
Eminent domain allowed Sunoco to begin clearing trees on the Gerhart property in March of 2016, before they even had the necessary state permits, the ones the company has now violated numerous times.
The Gerharts refused to be bullied and Elise and a few supporters took to the trees, saving a few of them from being cut down and halting construction on their property. The tree sits have continued for over a year as a forest defense camp called Camp White Pine, as construction on the pipeline closes in on both sides.
Both the Blumes and Gerharts believe the state has done nowhere near enough to protect Pennsylvania citizens and are calling on the DEP to stop the pipeline for good.
Elise released this statement in response to the DEP order:
“During this "halt," people need to remain skeptical and vigilant. It will be up to folks out on the ground to hold Energy Transfer Partners, the Pennsylvania DEP, and Governor Tom Wolf accountable to this order. ETP has worked in secret on unauthorized portions of the project. There is hardly reason to believe that they will stop this practice. Now is the time to get out and about with cameras, and record activities. We will see after 10 days if Energy Transfer Partners is even interested in complying with this order.
This halt was not a gift from the governor's office. It was won by a group of residents who demanded it. As always, the responsibility of putting a stop to ETP's dangerous practices will continue to fall on people living under a government who refuses to protect us.
This order does not hold ETP accountable for the damage they have already done, or the crimes they have committed. It does not bring clean water to those who have already lost it. It does not bring justice to those whose rights have been violated, including our environment. Now is not the time to sit back and bask in a false sense of relief. It's a time to push back with everything we have left.”
The Mariner East 2 pipeline is part of a mass build out of fracked gas infrastructure being proposed across the state of Pennsylvania. In addition to thousands more fracked gas wells, the plan is to build some 30,000 more miles of fracked gas pipelines and dozens of compressors stations, fracked gas power plants and a massive ethane cracker plant which will break down fracked gas into ethylene for plastic production.
Even Pennsylvania Democrats who claim to care about climate change have rolled out the red carpet for the fracking industry and are doubling down on a fracked gas economy for the state.
“We want to be a part of deciding what is good for Pennsylvania, what is healthy for Pennsylvania” said Gerhart. “And that’s not this huge infrastructure build out.”