Author

About Michael Faherty

Attorney Michael F. Faherty leads Faherty Law Firm in the advocacy of property rights in providing eminent domain law services to Pennsylvania property owners. He provides legal representation to property owners. He provides legal representation to property owners in conjunction with his service as the only Pennsylvania representative to the Owners’ Counsel of America. The Owners’ Counsel is the national association of leading eminent domain attorneys and property rights advocates.

Atlantic Sunrise Approval

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued the final approval for the pipeline which is now under construction. Just compensation issues remain for some property owners.

Regulators OK Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

Federal regulators have given final approval to a company planning a contested $3 billion pipeline to carry natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to Southern states.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the notice on Friday for a 197-mile stretch of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Pennsylvania.

Climate activists, including a group of nuns who allowed activists to build an outdoor chapel on the proposed pipeline route, had challenged the project.

Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for parent company Williams Partners, says work likely will begin the week of Sept. 25. The contractor needs time to prepare the site.

Lancaster Against Pipelines, the activist group that built the chapel, has vowed to protect the structure.

– Associated Press

By |October 12th, 2017|Categories: Condemnation, Eminent domain, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

FERC Commissioners

In August of 2017 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission returned to an adequate number of Commissioners to act on pipeline proposals. FERC is widely expected to soon approve the 120 mile long PennEast pipeline from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey. Property owners who refused negotiations may soon be faced with condemnation of pipeline easements.

PennEast pipeline set for FERC approval after Senate confirms new commissioners

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is likely to issue its final approval to the controversial PennEast Pipeline project through Pennsylvania and New Jersey now that it has a quorum of commissioners for the first time since February, observers said on Friday.

The top federal regulator of interstate pipelines is expected to issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to the project this summer, allowing it to use eminent domain to take land for construction from landowners who have refused its offers of compensation.

FERC has a quorum now that the U.S. Senate approved two of President Trump’s nominations Thursday. Robert Powelson, a member of Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission, and Neil Chatterjee, an energy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will serve on the panel.

Their confirmation is expected to allow FERC to resume its reviews of permit applications for PennEast and other pipelines. The commission almost always approves such proposals, leading the agency’s critics to call it a “rubber stamp” for the fossil fuel industry.

“We have no reason to believe that their approval of pipelines will be any different now than it has been under previous quorums,” said Kathryn Urbanowicz, a staff attorney with the environmental group Clean Air Council in Philadelphia, which opposes PennEast.

She said FERC may issue the certificate soon, since that action usually quickly follows the agency’s final environmental impact statement, which it issued to PennEast in April, saying the project would have “less than significant” environmental impact.

Mary O’Driscoll, a spokeswoman for FERC, said she didn’t know when the commission would consider the PennEast application. She declined to respond to renewed claims that FERC is historically biased toward the fossil fuel industry.

The PennEast Pipeline company, which has said it expects to receive the certificate this summer, welcomed the Senate’s approval of the new commissioners.

“We are heartened to finally see Senate action on restoring a quorum to FERC to now consider important infrastructure projects across the country, including final approval of the PennEast Pipeline Project,” said Dat Tran, chairman of the PennEast board, in a statement. “We are confident in our application to deliver clean-burning, low-cost American energy to families and businesses throughout the region for decades to come.”

The Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance, a trade group that lobbied for the FERC confirmations, also welcomed the Senate’s approval, and urged the commission to immediately begin consideration of applications such as PennEast’s.

“This is a win for workers across the energy supply chain, and every American that benefits from access to affordable energy,” said Toby Mack, President of EEIA, in a statement. “This is a step in the right direction to creating jobs, growing our economy and making America stronger.”

If finally approved by FERC and other state and federal regulators, PennEast will carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Luzerne County, Pa. about 120 miles to Mercer County, N.J. The project has encountered strong resistance from communities along the route, and from environmental groups who say it is an unnecessary pipeline that will fragment forests, threaten waterways and encourage the production of climate-warming fossil fuels.

Even with the expected FERC approval, the pipeline requires more permits from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate regulator which plans to hold public hearings on the project but has yet to schedule them, said Clarke Rupert, a spokesman for DRBC.

In June, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection rejected PennEast’s application for a water-quality permit on the grounds that the company had failed for the second time in two months to submit all the required information. The company said it would reapply.

Critics of PennEast include the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network which unsuccessfully sued FERC in 2016, alleging that the agency’s policy was biased toward the pipeline industry.

DRN’s head, Maya van Rossum, said Friday that whether the pipeline is built is likely to depend on regulators other than FERC. She said FERC has denied only one pipeline project in 30 years. FERC’s O’Driscoll would not confirm or deny that assertion.

“Thankfully, nobody has been counting on FERC to do the right thing and say ‘no’ to PennEast,” van Rossum said. “We always knew it would come down to these other agencies.”

She said FERC’s likely approval won’t deflect opposition. “The community is not going to take this lightly. There is still a lot of fight left and opportunity to defeat this project.”

Lynda Farrell, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based Pipeline Safety Coalition, predicted that FERC will come under renewed pressure from both sides of the PennEast debate now that it has a quorum.

“I’m sure that all pipeline operators are breathing a sigh of relief as pipeline opposition groups are rolling up their sleeves,” she said. “The commission is going to be pressured by operators for fast-tracking.”

Story written by: By Jon Hurdle | StateImpact Pennsylvania
Photo by: Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA
Photo Caption: Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner, protested plans to build the PennEast natural gas pipeline, at a FERC ‘listening session’ near Jim Thorpe, Pa. in 2016

By |September 15th, 2017|Categories: Eminent domain, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

Transcourse Energy

The Transcourse Energy plan for a high voltage power line in York County is reported to progress to a final route proposal to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission by November 15, 2017. Owners should consult an experienced eminent domain attorney to protect owner rights on issues such as:

  • Eminent domain power
  • Regulatory approvals
  • Survey requests
  • Precondemnation activities
  • Harm to views
  • Electromagnetic fields
  • Easement terms
  • Proof of harms
  • Methods to value property
  • Just compensation
  • Condemnor payment of fees of owners

Experts: Landowners in path of power line project should know rights

Southern York County landowners who attended an informational meeting Thursday, Aug. 24, said they are prepared for a door knock if or when Transource Energy officials decide to step onto their property.

Hundreds of Hopewell, East Hopewell, Fawn and Lower Chanceford township residents stand to lose a portion of their land to a new above-ground high-voltage power-line project. Three state experts explained to them the rights they have to fight it.

Transource has the power of eminent domain, which means property owners’ land can be seized and used to build public utility infrastructure. And that power could trump any land considered part of preservation or agricultural security areas, experts said.

It is up to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to approve the power-line project.

Property rights: “You have property rights,” Penn State Law staff attorney Sean High said. High researches agricultural law issues for the Penn State Center for Agricultural and Shale Law.

PJM Interconnection, which coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia, claims that the project will allow existing power to freely flow south from a northern portion of the regional grid to help decrease ratepayers’ electric bills.

Despite their claim, High said, landowners can still play offense.

High encouraged landowners to hire an attorney who can write a binding contract that spells out specific concerns they have regarding eminent domain. For example, he said, if a farmer grows organic vegetables, construction trucks nearby or on their land could ruin the farmer’s business.

The $320 million “market efficiency” project is a first of its kind in Pennsylvania, state acting consumer advocate Tanya McCloskey said. It has an east and west component that affects residents of Franklin and York counties.

The project calls for 135-foot towers and miles of new transmission lines, according to Transource.

Community preparedness: “I feel the community is more prepared for Phase Two of the project,” Kim Carrick said.

Carrick is a member of the Stop Transource in Pennsylvania and Maryland group whose property is not affected by the proposed project. She said it’s her responsibility to support her community, adding she thought the agency experts’ presentations were “very concise.”

The final route for the power line is expected to be submitted to the state utility commission within the next two months, Transource spokeswoman Abby Foster said.

Public hearings: Once it’s submitted, there’s a checklist of items the commission needs to oversee, including hosting public hearings, before a final approval is rendered, McCloskey said.

She urged landowners to be part of the process. She told them to “bring information and present it to the commissioners.”

“Often farmland is viewed as the path of least resistance,” Pennsylvania Bureau of Farmland Preservation Director Doug Wolfgang said.

He said the project and its proposed route amounts to a land-use balancing act. Population projections in central Pennsylvania show a steady increase over the next several years, Wolfgang explained.

He said he strongly believes in farmland preservation, but he said he also knows the state is looking at supply and demand of pending electricity needs. And, rather than creating a route through a residential development, it’s often easier for infrastructure and transportation projects to run through farmland.

Frank Ayd, 44, of East Hopewell Township, said he, too, feels members of Stop Transource are more prepared after the meeting.

He said he and others are not naive, and if surveyors show up, “it can be very destructive,” which means fencing and trees could be removed and soil and livestock could be disturbed.

“Therefore, if contacted, I would never give permission to anyone I don’t know to even walk my property line,” he said.

Written by: Jana Benscoter | YorkDispatch

By |September 13th, 2017|Categories: Condemnation, Electric Transmission, Eminent domain, Property Rights|

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|

Sunoco Pipeline Offers re Wells

Sunoco offers affected well owners along pipeline $60K; petition seeks to halt construction

Sunoco Pipeline LP has offered $60,000 each to at least 14 households in Chester County whose water wells were impaired this month by the company’s construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, according to two people involved in the negotiations.

The $60,000 would pay for each household’s water bills for years to come after it is connected to Aqua Pennsylvania’s public water system.

Earlier this month, 14 households near Township Line Road in West Whiteland and Uwchlan Townships complained that the water from their private wells was interrupted or had become cloudy. Sunoco subsequently suspended drilling in that area. At issue is water that is released in the process of constructing the pipeline. Sunoco says it uses a mix of water and naturally occurring, nontoxic bentonite clay.

Jeffrey Shields, a Sunoco spokesman, said Thursday that the company will not comment on private negotiations.

The offer, made to the homeowners Wednesday night, was the latest in a recent string of developments regarding the pipeline, which is being built to transport natural-gas liquids through 17 counties along the southern part of the state, including Chester and Delaware Counties.

• On Monday, an administrative law judge temporarily blocked construction of a valve-control station in West Goshen Township, Chester County.

• Tuesday, in a separate action, a state Environmental Hearing Board judge ordered that Sunoco temporarily halt horizontal drilling being done in connection with the pipeline’s construction, although that order does not block all construction. The order will expire Aug. 7, when the environmental board will hold hearings on the matter.

• And on Thursday, a coalition of local environmental groups from suburban Pennsylvania said it had gathered about 1,200 signatures from residents supporting calls for a halt to the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction because of the water issue.

The petition, addressed to the state legislature, supports a recent call by State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, a Democrat from Chester County, to have the Department of Environmental Protection halt the horizontal-drilling method used to construct the pipeline — at least temporarily.

Sunoco made its offer of $60,000 a household Wednesday evening, during a meeting with those whose water well has been affected, according to two people who were present. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

Sunoco permitted the residents to take a few days to “mull it over” before coming to a decision on the offer, but the consensus among those in the meeting was that they would accept it, according to the two people present.

Written by: Frank Kummer & Michael Burke, STAFF WRITERS | philly.com

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

Suspension of Mariner 2 Drilling

EcoWatch has provided a review of recent orders suspending some work on the Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 2 Pipeline.

Sunoco Ordered to Temporarily Suspend Drilling on Pipeline Project

The Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board ordered Sunoco Pipeline LP Tuesday to temporarily halt some types of work on a $2.5 billion pipeline project designed to carry 275,000 barrels a day of butane, propane and other liquid fossil fuels from Ohio and West Virginia, across Pennsylvania, to the Atlantic coast.

On July 19, three environmental groups presented Judge Bernard Labuskes, Jr. with documentation showing that the project had caused dozens of drilling fluid spills and other accidents between April and mid-June.

“Across the state, Sunoco has unleashed drilling fluid into exceptional value wetlands, high-quality trout streams, reservoirs, and groundwater endangering both drinking water supplies and our natural environment,” Clean Air Council said in a statement. The nonprofit, along with the Mountain Watershed Association, Inc. and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, submitted the evidence to the judge one week ago.

The judge ordered all horizontal directional drilling—expected to be used in 168 locations where the pipeline crosses waterways or other obstacles—halted until Aug. 7, except in places where Sunoco can show that stopping mid-bore would cause safety problems, equipment damage or “more environmental harm than good.” The order immediately affects 55 sites where drilling is currently underway.

State environmental regulators are also investigating potential violations during the pipeline’s construction, including one case where regulators found that 14 homeowners “experienced adverse impacts to their private water supplies, which are drawn from groundwater.”

“The number of spills that have happened already is highly alarming; we know of at least 80 spills so far and construction is expected to continue into 2018,” said Clean Air Council attorney Kathryn Urbanowicz, adding that water supplies in five different places have been damaged.

“While the stay of drilling is temporary, today’s order is very important because the problems with Sunoco’s drilling have been accumulating rapidly, and each day that drilling continues the public and our natural resources are at risk,” she said.

Tree clearing and other activities along the pipeline’s path will still be allowed, under the Pennsylvania board’s order.

The order comes one day after a public utility commission judge issued an emergency order halting pipeline construction in West Goshen Township, Pennsylvania, over claims that the company unlawfully misled local officals about where it would build an above-ground valve station.

Company officials have said that they plan to press forward with construction.

“We believe that the full hearing before the Environmental Hearing Board will demonstrate that we have expended every effort to meet the strict conditions of our environmental permits,” Sunoco spokesperson Jeff Shields told NBC News. “We are continually evaluating our drilling plans, and had already voluntarily suspended work on a number of our drills while working to ensure that the concerns outlined by the DEP and Gov. Wolf were addressed.”

Over the last 10 years, the project’s parent company, Sunoco Logistics, has spilled hazardous material more often than any other company, based on records from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. That’s according to resolutions opposing the project passed by eight town-level governments along Mariner East 2’s route. (As of April, Sunoco Logistics has merged with Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline).

The controversial Mariner East 2 project has also come under fire for using eminent domain condemnation to seize private lands to build the pipeline, for posing an explosion risk to 40 public and private schools close to its route, and for running through densely populated Philadelphia suburbs. More than 105,000 people live within a quarter mile of the pipeline’s path and could be at risk in the event of an explosion, according to an analysis by FracTracker.

The pipeline has faced opposition both in the courtroom and on the ground. Camp White Pine, a direct action protest camp which activists say has created the most elaborate tree-sit ever built on the East Coast, was recently profiled by PBS NewsHour.

“We started really doing some research on this company and on the product it was carrying,” Ellen Gerhart, a retired special education teacher whose home sits roughly 200 feet from the pipeline’s path and who allowed activists to build the camp on her land, told NewsHour. “The more research you do, the worse the picture gets.”

Last month, in a separate legal action, a Huntington County judge ordered Ellen, her 30 year-old daughter Elise, and their supporters to vacate part of their own land. Thus far, the protest camp remains in place.

The project also faces zoning challenges filed this month by residents of Middletown Township.

Environmentalists emphasized that while they welcomed the drilling delay, they saw it as no reason for those opposed to the pipeline to become complacent or slow their efforts.

“The relief is not permanent,” Alex Bomstein, a Clean Air Council attorney said in a statement, “and the public must continue to call on elected officials and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to defend the public interest by putting a long-term halt to the drilling, which Sunoco has been unable to do safely.”

Written by: Sharon Kelly | EcoWatch

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By |July 30th, 2017|Categories: News, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|