In the News

Sunoco Pipeline Explosion

On 9/10/18 a natural gas pipeline west of Pittsburgh exploded. One home, approximately 500 feet from the 24 inch pipeline, was destroyed. The explosion and fire exemplify the risks to life and property.

Natural gas pipeline blast in Beaver County prompts evacuation

An Energy Transfer Partners pipeline exploded this morning, destroying one home, no injuries reported

Beaver County resident Chuck Belczyk, who lives across the street from where a natural gas pipeline exploded Monday morning, shot this video of the resulting fire.

A meteor, a plane crash, a helicopter. That’s how residents of a quiet street in western Pennsylvania described an explosion along a brand new natural gas pipeline in the woods behind their homes.

The fire shot up 150 feet in the air, damaged power lines, and sent neighbors scrambling out of their homes.

Authorities said the explosion occurred shortly before 5 a.m. near Ivy Lane in Center Township, Beaver County. It destroyed one home about 500 feet from where the blast occurred, prompted evacuations of others and closed an interstate. Officials said two garages, a barn and several vehicles were also destroyed by fires stemming from the explosion, but crews in the town 35 miles west of Pittsburgh said they were able to move several horses to safety.

One resident of Ivy Lane said the one destroyed home belonged to his neighbors, Sam and Joyce Rosati. Tom Demarco said the couple escaped with a young relative staying with them before the fire destroyed their home.

“They barely got out,” Demarco said. “The wind was pushing (the fire) towards (their) house. And, man it was ugly. It was darn ugly.”

Officials evacuated 25 homes, but let residents back in around 3 p.m. Monday.

Chuck Belczyk said his first thought was that a jet airplane had crashed, but then he heard a hissing sound.

“And that’s when it all hit us what was happening…you knew the pipeline went,” said Belczyk, whose home was one of the 25 evacuated.

“We looked out the window. It was like 12 noon. It was a ball of fire.”

Belczyk’s wife, Eve Lemire, described a scramble to gather what possessions the couple could take with them in the few minutes they had to evacuate. The couple tried to get their four cats inside pet carriers but couldn’t so they had to leave them in the home.

“I don’t sleep with my wedding rings on, so I went back and I took my rings,” Lemire said. “Then we left. We took nothing.”

Pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners says the line was a 24-inch natural gas gathering line called the Revolution pipeline. Gathering lines typically transfer gas from wellheads to a larger transmission line.

The 100-mile long Revolution line was built to feed two major ETP pipelines, the Rover pipeline and the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids line. (Sunoco, which is building the Mariner East 2 pipeline, merged with ETP in 2017). The company said the explosion was detected by its monitoring system. Valves were closed, and by 7 a.m., the fire had burned out, according to Alexis Daniel, a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners.

“There were no injuries and the area is secure,” Daniel wrote in an email. “All of the appropriate regulatory notifications have been made. An initial site assessment reveals evidence of a landslide in the vicinity of the pipeline.”

The Revolution line originates in northern Butler County, and began operating on Sept. 3. Both the Rover and the Mariner East 2 lines have been delayed by construction mishaps and environmental violations. The company completed construction on the Revolution line in February, but at the time officials said they were waiting for the completion of the Rover and Mariner East 2 to put it into operation.

Center Township police chief Barry Kramer said he will be asking questions about the safety of the line.

“We will be diligent on holding people’s feet to the fire,” Kramer said, referring to “the future of the line, the safety of the line, and why did this happen.”

Kramer said the explosion felled electric power lines. The Central Valley school district canceled classes. Interstate 376 was closed for several hours due to danger from falling power lines.

Pipeline critics have decried ETP/Sunoco’s track record in building and operating pipelines.

“It appears that ETP in Pennsylvania is following Sunoco’s history as one of the worst operators in the country for safety,” said Lynda Farrell, director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition.

Federal data shows Sunoco Pipeline itself has the industry’s second-highest number of incidents self-reported to federal inspectors over the last 12 years, and the fourth-largest number of federal enforcement actions.

Data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shows Sunoco Pipeline reported 298 incidents from hazardous liquid, gas transmission and/or gas gathering pipelines nationwide from 2006 to 2018, year-to-date. That was the second-most among 2,152 operators in the agency’s database after Enterprise Crude Pipeline, a carrier of crude oil, which reported 306 incidents. Sunoco also had 175 federal inspections and 35 enforcement actions during the period.

In Pennsylvania, incidents include the leak of 20 barrels of natural gas liquids by the 1930s-era Mariner East 1 line at Morgantown, Berks County, on April 1, 2017, because of “external corrosion.”

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said in an email that the agency tested the air near the explosion on Monday and found “no evidence of gas inside or outside homes.”

Written by: Susan Phillips and Reid Frazier StateImpact Pennsylvania

Photo caption: A sign marking the right of way for the Mariner East pipeline in Lebanon County.

Photo by: Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Jon Hurdle contributed to this report.

By |September 13th, 2018|Categories: In the News, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

Judges Halt Pipelines

Upon Judge direction, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered stoppage of the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The attached news story explains how environmental regulators are compelled by judges to provide mandated environmental protections.

What Happens When a Pipeline Runs Afoul of Government Rules? Authorities Change the Rules.

Federal authorities halted work on the massive Mountain Valley Pipeline this month after an appeals court ruled that federal agencies neglected to follow environmental protections.

Update, August 10, 9 p.m.: On Friday evening, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order halting all work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. FERC cited an appeals court ruling that found the National Park Service and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service skirted environment rules when approving the $5.5 billion, 600-mile project.

A week ago, the federal government halted work on a massive pipeline project that runs from Northern West Virginia through Southern Virginia.

The government said it had no choice but to order work on the multibillion-dollar Mountain Valley Pipeline stopped after a federal appeals court ruled that two federal agencies had neglected to follow important environmental protections when they approved the project.

The court had found that the U.S. Forest Service had suddenly dropped — without any explanation — its longstanding concerns that soil erosion from the pipeline would harm rivers, streams and aquatic life. It also found that the Bureau of Land Management approved a new construction path through the Jefferson National Forest, ignoring rules that favor sticking to existing utility rights-of-way.

“American citizens understandably place their trust in the Forest Service to protect and preserve this country’s forests, and they deserve more than silent acquiescence to a pipeline company’s justification for upending large swaths of national forestlands,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote for a unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Citizens also trust the Bureau of Land Management to prevent undue degradation to public lands by following the dictates” of federal law.

It turns out, those weren’t the only times state and federal regulators bent environmental standards for the project, which began construction in February.
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A review by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, in collaboration with ProPublica, shows that, over the past two years, federal and state agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s environmental laws have moved repeatedly to clear roadblocks and expedite the pipeline, even changing the rules at times to ease the project’s approvals.

Projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, known as MVP, require a variety of approvals before being built. Developers and regulators must study various alternatives, describe a clear need for the project, and show that steps will be taken to minimize damage to the environment and reduce negative effects on valuable resources like public lands and the water supply.

But in numerous instances, officials greenlit the pipeline despite serious unanswered questions, records show.

For example:

— After citizen groups brought a lawsuit challenging how West Virginia regulators concluded that the pipeline would not violate state water quality standards, the state Department of Environmental Protection dropped its review and instead waived its authority to decide if the project complied with its rules. This effectively ended the legal challenge and paved the way for construction to begin.

— Confronted with a similar lawsuit filed by the same citizen groups, the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved to rewrite their rules for how long pipeline construction could block the flow of rivers. Environmentalists fear that, under the plan approved by the Corps, four West Virginia rivers could be left dry for long periods of time, potentially harming aquatic life during construction.

— Developers persuaded judges to speed court proceedings and grant them access to private property along the route to cut down trees, saying they needed to do so before protected bats came out of hibernation. But then, despite guidelines saying no logging could take place after March 31, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission twice extended the company’s deadline.

Regulatory agencies waiving standards and rewriting rules to pave the way for economic projects isn’t new. West Virginians have watched it happen for decades with the coal industry, as mine operators used variances to avoid strict land reclamation standards or fill streams with waste rock and dirt. That pattern is continuing with the natural gas boom.

“I’ve seen this kind of behavior from agencies before,” said Pat Parenteau, who teaches environmental law at the Vermont Law School. “They start out being strong, but they roll over, especially for these big energy projects that have this national interest, energy security push behind them.”

In its “stop work” order last week, FERC said, “there is no reason to believe” that the federal agencies involved would not “ultimately issue” new permits that would withstand the court’s scrutiny. But until then, FERC ordered that “construction activity along all portions of the project and in all work areas must cease immediately.”

A news release from Mountain Valley Pipeline echoed FERC’s statement that the pipeline permits would be easily reissued. Developers said they would work closely with the agencies involved to resolve the challenges to their work and “we look forward to continuing the safe construction of this important infrastructure project.”

When it is built, the Mountain Valley Pipeline will transport natural gas from Wetzel County, near West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, crossing about 200 miles in West Virginia and 100 miles in Virginia. It is one of several large transmission pipelines in the works across the Appalachians, part of the ongoing rush to market natural gas from the boom in drilling and production in the sprawling Marcellus Shale formation.

In another ruling that exposed flaws in the government’s pipeline review process, the 4th Circuit earlier this week threw out two permits for a pipeline even bigger than the MVP: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5.5 billion effort to transport gas more than 600 miles, from central West Virginia to the eastern portions of Virginia and North Carolina.

Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the project without setting any real limits on damage to endangered species, and the National Park Service granted permission for pipeline developers to drill under the Blue Ridge Parkway without determining if doing so was consistent with the road’s protection as a unit of the Park Service.

Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the Park Service, said the agency is reviewing the ruling.

Because different permits for pipelines cover different parts and types of construction work, it’s not entirely clear how one court ruling that overturns one permit ultimately affects other parts of the construction. Eventually, such decisions are made by FERC, which is the lead agency for gas infrastructure projects.

So far, FERC has not decided if it will issue a broad stop-work order aimed at the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, also known as ACP. Project developers argue that it shouldn’t. They say the ruling affects only a small part of the route and that the “court’s concerns can be promptly addressed through additional review by the agencies without causing unnecessary delay to the project,” which is scheduled to go online in late 2019.

Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for the ACP and its lead developer, Dominion Energy, said the project has been under review for nearly four years by more than a dozen state and federal agencies.

“The courts have found some errors in the process, and they’ve given the agencies the opportunity to correct them,” Ruby said in an email this week.

Pipeline project opponents say the court rulings are evidence of something else entirely.

“This is an example of what happens when dangerous projects are pushed through based on politics, rather than science,” said Southern Environmental Law Center attorney D.J. Gerken, who represented citizen groups in the ACP case.

‘This Is What They’re Taking From Me’

On a spring morning earlier this year, Mark Jarrell got in his all-terrain vehicle and drove up the hill to the top of his Summers County property.

“This is what they’re taking from me,” Jarrell said, looking out onto the Greenbrier River and Keeney Mountain.

That day, Summers County was quiet. But Jarrell knew it wouldn’t last. About a month later, he heard machines whirring outside. He drove up the hill behind his house and found three machines clearing trees to make way for the Mountain Valley Pipeline — leaving behind a barren, 3,000-foot-long and 125-foot-wide swatch running down Jarrell’s property.

He’d dreaded that day for three years, “but when you see it for the first time, that’s the real punch in the gut.”

As West Virginia’s natural gas industry continues to grow, business boosters and state political leaders portray it as the key to a bright future filled with jobs, tax revenue and prosperity. Some residents in communities along the Mountain Valley Pipeline route see the project as part of that hopeful future.

“This is an infrastructure project putting money into the state,” said Bill Shiflet, an insurance agent in Union, West Virginia.

But others are wary that West Virginia has been too quick to embrace the natural gas rush and projects like the pipelines. They fear this movement is taking the state down the same path as the coal industry. And as construction proceeds this summer, some of their fears are starting to come true.

For Jarrell, the Mountain Valley Pipeline means a swath of brown, barren path snaking up the hillside. The pipeline itself will be buried, and the hillside along the pipeline’s 50-foot-wide operational right-of-way will be reclaimed with grass. But it won’t be the same.

“Now it’s real, it’s not talking about it and worrying about it and thinking about it, it’s happening,” Jarrell said. “And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

Water Pollution

Jarrell and many of his neighbors have tried to stop the pipeline, and they have been joined in their quest by state and national environmental groups.

While FERC is generally the lead agency for interstate pipeline proposals, permits and approvals are needed from a variety of other agencies. Environmental groups opposed to the pipelines have challenged the projects at nearly every possible turn, raising issues about local environmental damage, questioning the need for the pipelines and warning of the global warming implications of increased use of another fossil fuel.

Among the many permits they’ve challenged is one called a “401 Certification,” issued under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.

That section was intended to give states a bit of a check on federal authority. It was passed when federal agencies were pushing through large hydroelectric projects that included dams that often upset local officials.

If a state wanted to step in and block such a project, it could refuse certification. States also may attach additional conditions to their certifications. Or they can waive their authority altogether, if they want to.

West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection issued its 401 certification for Mountain Valley Pipeline in March 2017, issuing a news release that touted the project’s potential to “transport West Virginia’s abundant natural gas to meet the growing need for power generation” in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions. The DEP directed reporters to the pipeline developer’s own website for information about the “potential economic benefit” of the project.

Local citizens and state environmental groups urged DEP Secretary Austin Caperton to reconsider the permit approval. Caperton refused, and he provided no explanation for his decision. The citizens sued in the 4th Circuit, the federal appeals court that covers West Virginia. (Under the Natural Gas Act, appeals of permits for pipelines bypass local federal district courts and go directly to appeals circuits.)

The lawsuit alleged that the DEP had not really done a required study to determine if the pipeline would harm state waterways. It also said the agency had not required pipeline developers to determine how streams along the route were being used, what the baseline water quality was prior to construction or if the pipeline would “significantly degrade” those waters.

A week before state lawyers were due to explain the DEP’s actions in legal pleadings, the agency said it needed to study whether the information used to issue the water quality certification was adequate or needed to be enhanced. Citizen groups went along with a DEP request that the court send the 401 certification back to the state agency and expressed hope the agency was going to do a better job this time.

Weeks went by, though, and the DEP said little about how this evaluation was being conducted or when it might be finished.

Then, on Nov. 1, Caperton went on statewide talk radio and announced that his agency would not do an additional review. Instead, he said, DEP officials were going to waive their legal authority to decide if the pipeline complied with West Virginia pollution limits.

Waivers are not the normal practice for the DEP, and West Virginia political leaders and regulators usually are staunch advocates of states, not the federal government, calling the shots on environmental matters.

Caperton said a separate state permitting process aimed at controlling stormwater runoff from the pipeline was sufficient and defended the decision to waive the certification authority. He said the DEP would “use all of our resources” to ensure the pipeline would be built safely.

“We feel very comfortable that this pipeline can be installed in an environmentally sound manner and that the environmental impacts ultimately will be zero,” Caperton said on the West Virginia MetroNews program, “Talkline.”

Months later, Caperton’s own inspectors have started identifying problems that belie Caperton’s statement.

Since April, state water quality inspectors have issued citations along the pipeline route in West Virginia: sediment-laden water leaving the construction site; missing or improperly installed runoff controls; failure to add more pollution protections when existing ones were shown to be inadequate. So far, the MVP has not paid any fines for those violations.

Jake Glance, a spokesman for the DEP, defended his agency’s handling of pipeline issues.

“To suggest that we are not performing our statutory duty, or ‘putting our thumb on the scale,’ is simply not true,” Glance said in an email this week. “We remain committed to our mission of protecting the health of West Virginians and our environment, enforcing the regulations passed by our legislature, and ensuring the permits we issue are being adhered to.”

But Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said her group warned about the water quality violations that DEP inspectors are now finding.

“There are smart people working at [the] DEP who I believe knew these shortcuts would be a problem down the line,” Rosser said. “They knew these pipelines would be a problem for water quality. But my sense is those people aren’t making the decisions. There’s a culture in this state and within our agencies that this is just what we have to deal with as a state reliant on an extractive industry economy.”

Crossing the Rivers

As it winds from West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle to the Virginia-North Carolina border, the Mountain Valley Pipeline will cross four West Virginia rivers: the Elk, the Gauley, the Greenbrier and the Meadow.

For the pipeline to be constructed, each river needs to be dammed and excavated — sometimes with blasting — so that the 42-inch-diameter pipeline may be buried beneath the streambed.

For this work, the Mountain Valley Pipeline needs another type of permit, a Clean Water Act “dredge-and-fill” permit. If the construction is not handled correctly, sediment can increase in the water, oxygen can decrease and aquatic habitats can be harmed. And, of course, while each river is dammed, there is no stream for aquatic life there to live in.

Because of those effects, state officials, working with the Corps of Engineers, put a 72-hour time limit for completing these kinds of stream crossings in West Virginia. That time limit applies to all projects that seek approval under a streamlined Corps of Engineers review process, as Mountain Valley Pipeline did.

The problem is, Mountain Valley Pipeline says each of its stream crossings will take four to six weeks to complete. And despite the 72-hour time limit, the Corps approved the Mountain Valley Pipeline permit anyway, using the streamlined process that saved the developers time, money and scrutiny.

In May, the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and other groups sued again in federal court. On June 21, the 4th Circuit issued a stay of the Corps-approved permit until the appeals court could hold an oral argument this fall.

The court order prompted a late-night news release from Gov. Jim Justice.

“This project represents thousands of jobs and millions of dollars being spent to benefit this state, not to mention the long-term stability and boost the energy economy of this country will see as a result of this project’s completion,” the governor said.

Justice said he had talked with DEP officials and “they report that the builders of each segment of this pipeline work hard to protect the waters of this state, and they are doing a good job.”

“While there have been violations that have resulted from the WVDEP’s inspection of this pipeline, these violations have been corrected quickly,” Justice said.

The governor said his administration would “continue to monitor these proceedings closely to determine what role the state may play expediting the construction of this pipeline.”

In early July, the Corps of Engineers rewrote its approval of the pipeline to essentially waive the 72-hour time limit on the river crossing construction. In a court filing, Corps lawyers defended the move, saying the alternative of digging a trench for the pipeline without diverting water flow would cause more environmental damage.

And just this Wednesday, the DEP released a proposal to exempt the stream-crossing method Mountain Valley Pipeline proposed from the 72-hour limit.

Environmental groups said the agencies could instead push MVP to use a more conventional method to bore under the rivers, perhaps reducing the effects.

All sides are now waiting for the court to decide if the new Corps approval, revised to meet MVP’s needs, is enough to lift the stay of the Clean Water Act permit.

Extending Time to Cut Trees

When MVP developers told three federal judges in early 2018 that they needed access to private property to build the pipeline, their lawyers argued that they needed it quickly.

They were up against a strict March 31 deadline — the day federally protected, threatened or endangered bats come out of hibernation in certain areas along the pipeline route, and roost in the trees.

If developers didn’t start cutting down trees quickly, they’d miss that deadline, and they’d have to wait to clear trees until November, MVP developers said in court.

That would have pushed the project’s finish date past the end of 2018, its goal, costing the company hundreds of millions in lost revenue and termination clauses, the project’s senior vice president of engineering and construction testified in court hearings when the pipeline developers sued landowners to secure easements through eminent domain. The landowners were not willing to sell on their own, forcing developers to go to court.

The landowners urged MVP to slow down, but within weeks of each hearing, judges granted possession of the land, allowing developers to start clearing trees. Two of three judges mentioned the bats in their decisions to allow construction on private property.

But March 31 came and went, and MVP hadn’t cut down all the trees it needed along the route. So lawyers asked FERC to extend that March 31 deadline by two months, to allow them to cut down trees on a small portion of the Jefferson National Forest. Tree-sitting protesters had delayed the company’s logging, MVP lawyers told FERC, and the small area of the national forest they wanted to work in was not believed to be home to any of the threatened or endangered bats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose job is to protect threatened or endangered species, signed off on an extension for MVP to cut trees in the national forest, so long as it was finished by May 31.

“If there is a desire to extend tree clearing past May 31, that answer would change,” Troy Andersen, a supervisory Fish & Wildlife biologist, wrote in an email to the Forest Service, which MVP later filed with FERC.

FERC granted that extension.

In June, MVP asked FERC for another extension, complaining that “obstructionists continued to prohibit Mountain Valley from felling the trees” by the deadline, and asking to keep working through July 31. FERC approved the request. The 4th circuit decision on July 27 put a halt to construction in the Jefferson National Forest, four days before the deadline. At that point, trees had mostly been cut down but hadn’t been cleared from the road. According to the most recent construction status report filed with FERC on July 26, tree-cutting was still in progress, but not entirely finished. As of Friday morning, MVP hadn’t asked for an extension.

“This may seem to be just a minor adjustment allowing them to tree cut until the end of July,” said Bill Price, field organizing manager for the Sierra Club, “but the impact of that to the habitat in the area, I don’t know anyone knows for sure.”

The federal agency also has approved other requests by the MVP developers that residents along the route say affect their quality of life in more straightforward ways.

In recent weeks, residents fought a request for FERC to extend the construction day until as late as 9 p.m. Letters poured in from residents, organizations and county governments, urging FERC to turn it down. Extending construction would create more noise and more workers on the road while commuters try to get to and from work, they said. Longer hours would mean tired, and careless, workers. And, residents said, it was just another example of developers rewriting the rules to make things more convenient for them.

It’s enough that crews have to work during the day, said David Werner, who lives on the pipeline’s route in neighboring Virginia. He was one of the dozens who wrote to FERC, urging the commission to reject the proposal. If construction continues until dark, it disrupts his ability to play ball with his four grandkids or keeps him from sitting on his porch and enjoying the quiet.

FERC approved the request over the residents’ objections.

“They’re already working weekends,” Werner said in an interview. “Now they want to expand well beyond that. They’re violating what they said they were going to do.”

On Wednesday, Jarrell was back on his all-terrain vehicle, weaving through the construction area, which has been mostly abandoned since FERC’s stop-work order. Other than a few workers stabilizing the construction sites — per FERC’s order — Summers County was quiet again.

Jarrell doesn’t think it’ll last.

“They just don’t care, because there’s so much money at stake,” he said. “It’ll get built, no matter what.”

Written by: Kate Mishkin and Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and Beena Raghavendran, ProPublica
This article was produced in partnership with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

By |September 6th, 2018|Categories: Condemnation, In the News, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

Boy Scout Award

Mike Faherty was provided the “Ideal Scout” award by the Lancaster Council of Boy Scouts. Mike an Eagle Scout and former Boy Scout employee, provided pro bono services to the Scouts when a scout camp was threatened by eminent domain. Mike was able to decrease the land acquired and increase compensation.

By |May 29th, 2018|Categories: Condemnation, In the News, Property Rights|

$5,000,000 Increase From Turnpike

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission condemned 70.9 acres through a 240 acre sportsman’s club. The Turnpike paid $1,750,000 for property damages and no funds for relocation damages. Faherty Law Firm provided representation and obtained a settelement  for an additional $5,000,000 in total damages.

Turnpike buys gun club land near near McDonald for $5 million

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has acquired a key piece of property to allow the construction of an interchange on the Southern Beltway — and protect the safety of motorists.

But it came at a hefty price: $5 million.

That’s the amount the commission agreed to pay last week to buy 70.9 acres of land from the McDonald Sportsmen’s Association, leaving the association 168.4 acres of property off of Cooks Road between McDonald and Midway, Washington County.

The commission needs the land to build interchange 11 on the $800 million, 13-mile toll road that will link Route 22 to Interstate 79 on the Allegheny-Washington County border. That interchange will be on the northeast corner of land formerly owned by the association and will include construction of access roads from Route 980 to the north and Noblestown Road to the south.

Jeanmarie McLaughlin, the commission’s assistant counsel, said the property was among the last and most expensive pieces of land the commission has had to acquire for the project. Several factors besides the amount of property were at play in the cost, she said, among them activities the association conducts on that part of the property and the need to protect motorists who will use the new highway from activities on the shooting ranges at the association.

“The settlement amount includes more than the price of the land,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “In order for us to get them back to whole, we needed to pay for the activities they lost as a result of taking the land.”

Ms. McLaughlin said it was “a challenge” to reach an agreement that provided the land the turnpike needed, allowed the association to continue its programs and protect motorists.

“We’re not taking any of their buildings, but we are impacting their ranges,” she said. “They were very involved from the beginning to make sure they could continue their activities. That was especially important that them continuing their activities would continue to be safe for everybody.”

The association offers a variety of shooting ranges and training programs, including nighttime skeet shooting, but it isn’t clear which activities occur on the land acquired by the turnpike commission. Association President Bernie Dhans referred questions about the sale and changes the club will have to make to Harrisburg attorney Mike Faherty, who declined comment.

With this purchase, the commission has purchased just over 300 properties for the Southern Beltway at a cost of about $68 million.

Parts of the highway are under construction but none of it will open until all of it is complete in early 2021.

Written by: Ed Blazina | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By |May 10th, 2018|Categories: Condemnation, In the News, Transportation|

Delaware Riverkeeper Decision

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled for Sunoco Pipeline in the matter of Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Sunoco Pipeline, No. 952 C.D. 2017 (Feb. 20, 2018). The court reasoned that a township lacks zoning authority to prohibit a pipeline facility regulated by the Pennsylvania PUC.

By |April 8th, 2018|Categories: In the News, 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|

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|

Mariner East 2 Pipeline Again Delayed

Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. / Sunoco Pipeline has announced a delay in the start up (operation) of the Mariner East 2 proposed pipeline. Sunoco has now announced a plan of start up in the 3rd quarter of 2017. Sunoco attributed the delay to the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection permit process. Sunoco continues to attempt to obtain property rights from owners while eminent domain litigation continues in county and appellate courts.


Sunoco blames permit delays for later Mariner East 2 pipeline start-up

Written by: by Andrew Maykuth, Staff Writer / philly.com

Sunoco Logistics Partners LP said Thursday that it is pushing back next year’s start-up of the contentious Mariner East 2 pipeline to deal with unanticipated delays in obtaining permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The 300-mile pipeline, which would deliver natural-gas liquids such as ethane and propane from the Marcellus Shale region to Sunoco’s Marcus Hook terminal, has aroused opposition from some adjoining property owners, as well as from environmental activists.

Michael J. Hennigan, chief executive of the Newtown Square company, told investment analysts during its third-quarter earnings call that the DEP was asking for more technical details about the pipeline, which crosses 17 counties.

“The detail involved in the Pa. DEP permit application has necessitated a longer-than-anticipated regulatory review process, but we are convinced that this project will be environmentally responsible and will be creating significant economic development in the commonwealth,” Hennigan said.

The 275,000 barrel-per-day pipeline, which would mostly follow along the existing Mariner East pipeline, was initially expected to be operational by the end of 2016. Sunoco Logistics previously delayed the start-up to the second quarter of 2017. Thursday’s delay pushes that back to the third quarter of 2017.

The permit delays are the latest disappointment to beset the $2.5 billion Mariner East project, which will deliver natural-gas liquids to Marcus Hook for export, or potentially for use in local petrochemical facilities.

The first Mariner East project, a repurposed pipeline that was set to deliver 70,000 barrels of liquids a day, has been limited to 50,000 barrels because of technical problems, Hennigan said. Modifications to the fuel-handling systems were completed in October, he said, and the pipeline should achieve its full potential soon.

The Mariner East project is considered one of the linchpins to developing local uses for production from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. The natural-gas liquids are a raw material in petrochemical production.

 

By |November 18th, 2016|Categories: Condemnation, Eminent domain, In the News, Pipeline Construction|

Mariner East 2 Delay

Sunoco Logistics admits Mariner East 2 delay. The CEO related the delay to permits, not needed property rights!

Sunoco Logistics delays Mariner East 2 pipeline

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which has provoked landowner opposition along its route, has been pushed back until summer because of delays in obtaining permits, the pipeline’s operator announced Thursday.

Michael J. Hennigan, the chief executive of Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P., told investment analysts that more time was needed to obtain “hundreds of permits” required to build the cross-state pipeline, which will deliver Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids to Marcus Hook.

“I don’t like the word ‘delay,'” Hennigan said in response to an analyst who used the term. He said the the prolonged review was “not an intentional action” by any particular regulatory agency. The pipeline requires permits from several federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

No mention was made of Sunoco’s ongoing struggles to obtain rights of way from reluctant landowners along the pipeline route. The route largely follows the pathway of the existing Mariner East pipeline, which last year began propane deliveries and this month began sending ethane to Sunoco’s terminal in Marcus Hook.

Hennigan said the initial shipment of ethane would begin loading in the next few days, marking the first time that the material, which is used in petrochemical production, would be exported from the United States. Two European plastics producers have signed contracts to buy the ethane that Sunoco delivers to the Delaware River port.

The JS INEOS Intrepid, one of a fleet of new tankers built by European chemical producer INEOS to carry liquid fuels like ethane and propane, is currently moored in Marcus Hook, according to www.marinetraffic.com. A second vessel, the JS INEOS Ingenuity, has been anchored off the Delaware Coast since Sunday night.

Hennigan updated investors on Sunoco’s plans during a conference call after the Newtown Square company announced its annual financial results. The company is an affiliate of Energy Transfer Partners L.P. of Dallas, Texas.

The delay in the start of construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline would mean the project now will come online in 2017, rather than the end of 2016, Hennigan said.

The Mariner East 2 project would expand the existing pipeline’s capacity from 70,000 barrels per day to 345,000. It would deliver natural gas liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale areas of western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and eastern Ohio.

Sunoco says the producer demand for takeaway capacity from the shale region is so strong that Sunoco may build a second, adjacent Mariner East 2 pipeline — that would be a total of three Mariner East pipelines. But it has not yet received enough firm commitments from shippers to commit to the expansion, which Hennigan attributed to uncertainty over the current downturn in oil and commodity markets.

One analyst noted that the current “pause” in the construction start could allow Sunoco more time to line up commitments for the second Mariner East 2 pipeline. Sunoco has said it would want to build both pipelines simultaneously to reduce costs and disruptions.

The first Mariner East project is a 300-mile long 8-inch pipeline that was built 84 years ago to deliver refined products from Philadelphia refineries to inland terminals.

Written by: Andrew Maykuth | philly.com
Photo and caption: Construction was underway in early 2015 to prepare the future site of Mariner East 2 storage and processing equipment at Sunoco Logistics’ complex in Marcus Hook. Delaware County Council

By |February 25th, 2016|Categories: Condemnation, Eminent domain, In the News, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|