Monthly Archives: August 2017

Atlantic Sunrise Condemnations

A challenge to eminent domain by a group of Roman Catholic nuns has been defeated. Federal Judge Jeffrey Schmehl approved the use of eminent domain for a project which was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Challenges, after Federal Regulatory approval via the Natural Gas Act, are regularly denied by Federal judges. Williams Company wrote in August of 2017 that construction will commence on or about September 15, 2017.

Judge grants pipeline builder possession of properties

A judge gave the builder of the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline possession of five remaining properties in Lancaster County on Wednesday, including a right of way through land owned by Roman Catholic nuns near Columbia, LancasterOnline reported.

U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Jeffrey Schmehl granted the Transcontinental Pipe Line Co.’s motion to condemn the rights of way.

The Atlantic Sunrise project is a $3 billion expansion of the existing Transco natural gas pipeline system, which delivers about 40 percent of the natural gas consumed in Pennsylvania.

The project has drawn opposition, including from the group Lancaster

Against Pipelines, and the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, who built a chapel in protest on land they own.

A spokesman for Williams Partners, which owns Transco, said that the nuns would not have to remove the chapel right away but that they will have to move it before construction begins.

The nuns’ lawsuit against against Transco and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is pending, Lancaster-Online reported.

Provided by: LancasterOnline – From staff reports

By |August 31st, 2017|Categories: Condemnation, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

Draft Settlement Re Mariner East 2 Spills

In draft deal, Sunoco agrees to new pipeline drilling conditions as groups withdraw court challenge

Sunoco Pipeline agreed on Tuesday to meet new environmental safeguards for drilling on its Mariner East 2 pipeline project in return for withdrawal of a court challenge by three environmental groups.

The two sides reached a draft settlement agreement that may avert a hearing before Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board if the judge in charge of the case approves the details. A ban on many of Sunoco’s horizontal directional drilling sites, imposed by Judge Bernard Labuskes on July 25, remains in place until he decides whether to sign off on the deal.

The hearing that was due to begin Wednesday has been canceled.

If the judge confirms the agreement, Sunoco will take steps to protect private water wells, some of which were contaminated by the drilling in recent months. The company agreed to notify landowners within 450 feet of a horizontal drilling location ten days before it starts work there, and to offer to test their water before, during and after the operation.

“Sunoco will immediately notify a landowner with a water supply within 450 feet of an HDD when Sunoco or the Department has determined that there is a substantial possibility that the operation of the HDD will impact his or her water supply,” the agreement said.

The company also agreed to re-evaluate the geology at drilling sites after puncturing aquifers in some locations, disturbing the water supplies of some residents whose private wells draw on those aquifers. Sunoco also said it would file reports of its plans to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The re-evaluation of horizontal directional drilling sites, as agreed to by Sunoco, includes sites where there was an “inadvertent return” of drilling fluid, the term used by the company for a spill. The company said it would consider data that are specific to each drilling site, and conduct extra geotechnical evaluations such as seismic surveys and ground-penetrating radar as appropriate. The re-evaluations will be certified by a professional geologist with relevant experience, the agreement said.

For each site, the company agreed to file a report with the DEP explaining how it plans to “eliminate, reduce or control” the release of drilling fluids. And it said the DEP could modify the new drilling plans if appropriate.

The deal was made with three environmental groups who were seeking to extend a two-week drilling ban at 55 active sites that the judge imposed after dozens of spills of drilling fluid-tainted private water wells and flooded wetlands in some places along the 350-mile pipeline route. Check out our map of the spills here.

The groups – Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Mountain Watershed Association – were preparing to argue their case before the Board starting Wednesday, but withdrew their demands in the agreement.

The agreement does not affect the groups’ existing appeal at the EHB of the DEP’s permits for the pipeline, said Alex Bomstein, an attorney for the Clean Air Council.

State Senator Andy Dinniman, a Democrat who has called for a halt to all Mariner East 2 construction until the water contamination problems can be fixed, issued a statement saying the agreement gives the DEP a chance to take another look at the case.

Dinniman has accused the state agency of failing to properly scrutinize Sunoco’s permit applications.

“Although this latest development is the result of citizens, environmental groups, and nonprofit organizations – not DEP – demanding action, DEP is essentially given a second chance,” Dinniman said.

“In turn, it seems like DEP now has a golden opportunity to re-review permits and reports and do its due diligence in protecting the environment, homeowners, and their water resources. Hopefully, this time, DEP does its job the right way. Either way, know that we will be watching very closely,” he said.

Last Thursday, the judge lifted the ban at 16 of the 55 sites after Sunoco argued the work stoppage would damage equipment, hurt the environment, or endanger public safety.

The July 25 order was the biggest setback so far to construction of the more than $2.5 billion pipeline, which will carry natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale of southwest Pennsylvania to an export terminal at Marcus Hook, near Philadelphia. It followed another judge’s order to halt construction in West Goshen Township, Chester County, and comes amid a legal challenge to the project’s claimed status as a public utility.

This story has been updated to clarify that the settlement agreement does not affect an appeal by the environmental groups against DEP permits for Mariner East 2. That appeal before the Environmental Hearing Board will continue.

Written By: Jon Hurdle | StateImpact Pennsylvania
Photo by: Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY
Photo caption: In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Sunoco is drilling beneath the lake as part of construction. On Tuesday, the company agreed to meet new environmental safeguards for drilling on the project in return for withdrawal of a court challenge by three environmental groups.

By |August 9th, 2017|Categories: In the News, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

FERC Asked to Investigate Mariner East 2

Recent construction spills and contaminated water has resulted in a U.S. Congress request for a FERC investigation. In the interim, a Pennsylvania Environmental Board hearing which was scheduled for August 7 was postponed to August 9 while negotiations progress concerning the order to halt horizontal drilling.

Democratic lawmakers ask FERC to investigate Mariner East 2 pipeline builder

Two ranking Democrats in Congress have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to further investigate the practices of pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners, which has merged with Sunoco Logistics, after spills and permit violations occurred on two of its major projects in three different states, including the Mariner East 2 pipeline here in Pennsylvania.

In a letter to FERC last Thursday, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., and Washington state Senator Maria Cantwell, detail recent spills in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and criticize the company for misleading regulators by destroying an historic home in Ohio. StateImpact reported recently on a judge ordering ETP/Sunoco to stop construction on a valve station in West Goshen Township, where the company began building a valve station at a location the township had not agreed to.

We first heard about problems with Chester County water July 4th weekend, when we got several emails telling us construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline had polluted well water. When we went to check it out and knock on doors in West Whiteland Township, we found David Mano, and his fiancé Dianne Salter in their backyard pool.

Mano says he didn’t even know about the pipeline construction until a neighbor called and told him to check his well water.

“Which I did Wednesday evening when I came home, and my water was light brown, full of sediment,” he said.

Sunoco, which recently merged with Energy Transfer Partners, is building the more than $2.5 billion dollar pipeline to carry natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale fields to an export terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The company is also building other pipelines across the country, including the Dakota Access pipeline, which native Americans opposed.

The Mariner East 2 is controversial primarily because the state Public Utility Commission allowed the company to take land through eminent domain, which so far has been backed by the courts. Despite pending lawsuits, protests and petitions, construction began in February.

Township officials said the water problems in Mano’s neighborhood of West Whiteland Township were caused by drilling mud, which leaked into the aquifer supplying his well. The company says it’s a non-toxic clay slurry called bentonite, which is often used in things like kitty litter and make-up.

It may be non-toxic but Mano says, he’s not drinking it.

“Ok, so you want me to drink cat litter and women’s foundation make-up in my water? I don’t think so.”

Drilling mud in large quantities can plug up an aquifer. It can also smother aquatic life if it gets into streams and wetlands.

Sunoco responded quickly, delivering water to residents and putting them up in hotels. They tested the well water.

Township officials said Sunoco told them the problem should clear up in a week or two. But a few days later, on July 11, Sunoco offered to pay the costs to hook up the 15 to 30 impacted households to public water supply.

At a public meeting in West Whiteland Township two days later, Sunoco said their preliminary tests showed no toxins in the water. Company officials also said the tests didn’t find bentonite clay. Still, some residents wells had dried up. The company said it would halt construction at the site temporarily. Jeff Shields is Sunoco’s spokesman.

“It’s important to us to have decent relationships with our neighbors,” said Shields. “We’re impacting their lives we understand that. Just by construction we’re impacting their lives. So take that extra step when their well water is impacted we need to do something and we are.”

But at the meeting several residents who had not previously known about the pipeline, expressed fears that once it’s built there would be safety risks. The highly explosive natural gas liquids become a colorless odorless gas when in contact with air.

Dianne Salter, a resident with impacted well water, said that’s what really scares her, more than the water.

“So it’s really a fear of an explosion, If it does leak on our neighbor’s lawn and they don’t recognize that cloud or fog on the ground, one lady smokes, she drives by and throws her cigarette out the window, we’re goners, we’re gone.”

Sunoco says their pipelines are safe. But an investigation by Reuters found it to have the worst safety record of any pipeline company.

The day after the meeting in West Whiteland, July 14, several state lawmakers asked the DEP to halt drilling or construction along the 350-mile long route, including state Senator Andy Dinniman.

“What we cannot understand and what we reject is the fact that the state and the pipeline companies have not proceeded to do this in a way to protect our health and safety and our environment,” Dinniman said.

On Thursday, July 20, one week later, Governor Wolf responded to Dinniman and other critics by issuing a statement that DEP should use its authority to hold Sunoco accountable.

On Friday, July 21 the DEP published a list of 49 drilling spills that occurred across the state since May. It was ten days after StateImpact had originally asked the Department for the list.

One spill included 160,000 gallons into a world class trout stream in Cumberland County. Another included 20,000 gallons into a Trout stream in Westmoreland County.

The DEP had issued 4 violations, and one fine.

Then Tuesday, July 25, an Environmental Hearing Board judge ordered Sunoco to halt drilling in 55 locations. On Friday, the judge allowed pipeline drilling in 3 locations for safety reasons. The judge was responding to a motion by the Clean Air Council, which is appealing the construction permits issued to Sunoco by DEP back in February.

The lawsuit claims the permits were incomplete, and did not provide assurance that Sunoco would build the pipeline while protecting the environment. Previous efforts to halt construction by the plaintiffs had failed.

David Mano, from West Whiteland Township, wished the shut down would have been sooner.

“How could they have let this happen to begin with and have all these issues, all the way down the pipeline and basically all the politicians everybody just turned their back and let Sunoco have their will,” he said.

On Monday, we learned from the Clean Air Council, that the documents from DEP obtained through litigation showed 90 spills in 61 locations.

Energy Transfer Partners, which is now one and the same with Sunoco, has also had problems in other states. West Virginia’s DEP shut down operations due to similar water contamination incidents with the Rover pipeline. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shut down construction in Ohio after 2 million gallons of drilling mud spilled into a wetland last April during construction.

FERC actually doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Mariner East 2 pipeline, but the spills added emphasis to the congressional letter.

In the letter to FERC, Congressman Pallone and Senator Cantwell asked FERC to investigate Energy Transfer Partners/Sunoco because “all of these issues raise serious concerns.”

A spokesman for the Rover Pipeline, Alexis Daniel, said in a statement that ETP has fully cooperated with state and federal regulators.

“We have maintained an unwavering commitment to the safe construction and operation of our pipelines to ensure the safety of our employees, the safety of the environment and the safety of those who live and work in the communities in which we do business,” wrote Daniel.

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields, says the cause of the problems in West Whiteland Township are not thought to be drilling mud.

“Instead, it appears the drill caused water to temporarily drain from the aquifer, and the lowered water table caused people to lose water pressure and/or the low water level stirred up sediment from the bottom of their wells, hence the cloudy water,” wrote Shields in an email. “So the issue in West Whiteland was caused by the drill itself, not by the drilling mud, at least according to the evidence we have seen.”

Jon Hurdle contributed to this report.

This piece was updated with a statement from ETP, and a new explanation from Sunoco on how the well water became muddy.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece said Sunoco told us the cause was drilling mud, it was township officials who told us this.

Written by: Susan Phillips | StateImpact Pennsylvania
Photo: Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY
Photo caption: Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

By |August 9th, 2017|Categories: In the News, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

Sunoco Pipeline Construction Spills

Property owners along the route of the Mariner East 2 construction would be wise to inspect their property following multiple construction spills. The following news story discusses the spills. The referenced list of 49 incidents is also included. View the list here. Construction spills could result in DEP fines. They could also result in Sunoco Pipeline liability for property harm beyond acquired property rights.

DEP issues few violations, one fine for Sunoco’s pipeline construction spills

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has issued four Notices of Violation, one consent order and one fine to Sunoco Pipeline for dozens of drilling mud spills that occurred along the length of the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction project. The DEP released a statement on Friday describing its efforts to manage Sunoco’s construction of the 350-mile long pipeline where drilling has caused water-contamination incidents in recent weeks.

DEP also provided a link to a list of 49 incidents, as well as copies of the Notices of Violations, one of which was issued on Thursday.

The agency fined Sunoco $87,600 and issued a consent decree on June 27 for 13 separate drilling mud spills that occurred between May and June in Cumberland County. The Notices of Violations report 552,000 gallons of bentonite mud spilled into LeTort Spring Run, an Exceptional Value wetland in Cumberland County. Exceptional Value waterways are those that are clean enough to support fish and wildlife, such as wild trout streams, or those that have high value recreational use.

In response to a Notice of Violation, Sunoco said on June 7 that it had “contained, captured and recirculated” the fluid back to the drill rig, and that it was not “discharged throughout the wetland.”

But the consent decree, dated about three weeks later on June 27 reports that Sunoco had not yet remediated the problem, and had shut down operations at DEP’s request on June 9. Up until Friday’s release, no public notification had been made of this incident.

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said there was a release of 1,500-2,000 gallons into the LeTort wetland at the Cumberland County site but the company had recorded the 552,000 gallons because that was the volume of fluid that was recirculated through pumps during the cleanup.

Bentonite mud is non-toxic to humans, but can ruin aquifers, and in large quantities smother aquatic life. A recent spill in an Ohio wetland of several million gallons of drilling mud during pipeline construction resulted in the operation halted by federal authorities. Ohio’s environmental regulators tested the mud and found diesel fuel had been added. The company building the Rover pipeline through Ohio is Energy Transfer Partners, which recently merged with Sunoco.

Violations were also issued as a result of drilling mud spills in Brookhaven, Delaware County in May, and another in Middletown Township, Delaware County due to an incident that occurred earlier this week.

DEP’s statement follows a chorus of complaints from private well owners whose water has turned cloudy or dried up in some places along the line. The incidents have prompted calls for a halt to drilling, or even to all Mariner East 2 construction, from state lawmakers representing some affected parts of the route.

Gov. Tom Wolf responded to angry residents and their representatives on Thursday by ordering the DEP to do what was legally possible to fix the problem.

In Friday’s statement, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said he wanted to assure the public that the DEP is taking their complaints seriously.

“With so much concern about the Mariner East 2 pipeline, the public needs to know that DEP is taking its oversight and regulatory enforcement role seriously,” McDonnell said. “This project has raised questions about public health and the health of the environment, and it is important to be transparent about the issues that have arisen over the course of the construction.”

McDonnell said there are “numerous” investigations underway into further possible violations, and that he expects to take more enforcement actions. He described the actions taken so far as “not the end of the road but the beginning.”

There were 61 spills of drilling fluid between April and June, according to documents turned over by DEP as part of a lawsuit challenging permits issued by the agency back in February. The discrepancy in the number of cases between the court filed documents and DEP’s recent release, is unclear.

DEP continues to face accusations that it issued permits for the pipeline even though deficiencies remained in Sunoco’s application, and that it has not required Sunoco to comply with permit conditions.

Critics said the DEP’s enforcement actions, and promises to do more, were not enough to ensure that drinking water and the natural environment are protected from the pipeline project.

“The fines levied by DEP are trivial,” said Eric Friedman, a member of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, an anti-pipeline group in Delaware County, where horizontal directional drilling this week resulted in a leak of bentonite, a non-toxic drilling mud, into a creek. “Their ability to deter continued unlawful behavior by Sunoco is insignificant.”

The group urged Gov. Wolf to halt construction, and for DEP to revoke the construction permits pending a public review that includes risks to public safety from the project.

State Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, a Delaware County Democrat, said the DEP’s actions do not deflect her earlier call for a halt to all pipeline construction pending an investigation into the causes and solutions to the leaks.

“I still believe that the responsible thing to do would be to halt construction until their investigations are completed,” she said, referring to the DEP.

She described the enforcement actions as a “positive first step” but argued that they don’t solve the “systemic problem” that Sunoco continues to leak drilling fluid into creeks and impact aquifers.

“A handful of notices of violation don’t seem to be enough to hold Sunoco accountable,” she said.

Sunoco’s Shields noted that the company halted drilling in West Whiteland Township, Chester County on July 13 after some residents’ wells were affected. The company had restarted drilling several days after the accident, but has since shut down operations at the site.

“We are continually evaluating our drilling plans, and while construction continues throughout the rest of the state, we are working to ensure that the Governor’s concerns are addressed,” Shields said.

The 350-mile pipeline will carry natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania to an export terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. The $3 billion project is due for completion by the end of the third quarter.

Story written by: By Jon Hurdle and Susan Phillips | StateImpact Pennsylvania
Photo by: Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA
Photo Caption: Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County in March. The company has spilled at drilling mud in dozens of incidents.. DEP has issued four violations, and one fine.

By |August 9th, 2017|Categories: Eminent domain, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights, Uncategorized|

Temporary DeFacto Taking

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has explicated that a de facto “in effect” taking can take place over a specified period of time. In Re Mountaintop Area Joint Sanitary Auth. v. DeLuca, No. 1318 CD 2016 (July 12, 2017) the court noted that a sewer-authority chose to operate a system in a manner which would sporadically flood the landowners home. The court found that an easement was taken for a period of nearly five years. A Board of Viewers will determine damages per the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code.

One week later Faherty Law Firm presented evidence that a Centre County Township effectuated a temporary de facto taking via use of the landowners property as a shortcut between two public roads.

By |August 2nd, 2017|Categories: Condemnation, Eminent domain, In the News, Property Rights, Uncategorized|