News

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|

Pennsylvanians vs. FERC

A group of Pennsylvania residents have challenged the operations of the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). The suit may push FERC to improved responsiveness to its obligation to regulate for safety. One correction of the following story is suggested. The article states that each time FERC approves a pipeline, the project is automatically granted eminent domain power. That is true for the natural gas pipelines per the Natural Gas Act. By contrast, FERC also approves hazardous liquids pipelines. These pipelines are not eligible for FERC eminent domain power, because that power is not contained in the controlling Interstate Commerce Act. The Sunoco Pipeline Mariner East 2 is one such hazardous liquids pipeline which was approved by FERC without eminent domain power.

Suit claims bias toward industry

A court filing contends a federal agency whose funding is based on the flow of gas is controlled by the companies it oversees.


PIPELINE NUMBERS:
104 pipelines have been approved across the U.S. in the last five years.

34 of those pipelines were in Pennsylvania.

20 percent of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s budget comes from pipelines and the natural gas industry.


A federal agency that receives all of its funding from the energy industry it regulates has never rejected a pipeline plan, demonstrating bias and corruption, a lawsuit contends.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, designed to be self-funded, independent and nonpartisan, receives its money from fees paid by the companies it oversees. One of those fees is based on the volume of gas moving through a pipeline. The more gas that flows, the more money the commission receives.

Some Pennsylvania residents say they believe that’s why the agency has approved dozens of pipeline projects stretching through the state  and has approved every pipeline application it received in the past 30 years. Those decisions have angered several state landowners who are fighting plans that allow pipelines to tunnel through their backyards.

About 20 percent of the commission’s budget comes from pipelines and the natural gas industry. The rest comes from electricity, hydropower and oil companies.

Each time the federal agency approves a pipeline, the pipeline project is automatically granted eminent domain status. The commission does not have authority to grant eminent domain status. That power comes from the Natural Gas Act. The act says if an easement can’t be negotiated for a project the agency has authorized, the pipeline builder has the right of eminent domain.

In the last five years, the commission approved 104 pipelines across the country, including 34 in Pennsylvania, according to a PennLive/The Patriot-News analysis.

Before the Marcellus Shale boom, the agency approved two to four a year in the state. Once drillers unlocked a stockpile of natural resources, that number climbed to five to 10 a year, as numerous pipelines were planned to move oil and gas to market. With each new pipeline, company negotiators show up at Pennsylvania homes, ask- ing landowners to accept an easement, which is a one-time payment for the pipeline on their properties.

Landowners can negotiate the price, but they can’t challenge eminent domain.

Commission decisions aren’t reviewed by Congress or the president, according to the agency’s budget language. The decisions can be challenged only in federal court, which would require money that many Pennsylvania residents say they don’t have.

A lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., challenges the commission’s relationship with industry. It accuses the commission of regulatory capture, a situation in which corporations control regulators.

“Pipelines have a 100 percent approval rate with FERC. There’s bias and corruption,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. She and the network filed the lawsuit against the commission, calling it a “corrupt, rogue agency.” They took issue with the PennEast Pipeline, a 114-mile line planned for Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

A commission spokeswoman said the agency would not comment on the lawsuit or any claims made in association with it.

The agency evaluates the need for a project based on market demand and then looks at environmental and safety aspects, Commissioner Cheryl La-Fleur said last year.

The agency is designed to be nonpartisan and independent, but it rarely seems to work that way in practice, almost always following the president’s agenda.

No more than three of the five commissioners, who are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, can be from the same political party. But much like the Supreme Court, their decisions can appear in line with political ideology.

For example, President Barack Obama made natural gas development a part of his Clean Power Plan to fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions. Similarly, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan wanted to deregulate the natural gas industry, saying American consumers were being hurt by government regulations that created higher gas bills.

Then commission Chairman C.M. Butler III told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee there would be “a disaster in the gas market” if the rules weren’t changed, according to a March 1983 Associated Press report.

With prices fixed by law instead of the free market, producers would lose customers and possibly go bankrupt, he said.

At the time, there were artificially high prices during the 1980s gas glut, while the simultaneous oil glut offered low prices. Butler told the Senate that consumers would switch to the cheaper energy “and the result will be a disaster in the gas market.” The commission largely supported Reagan’s proposal, saying it would reduce prices because “the price of gas follows the price of oil.”

Article written by Candy Woodall | pennlive.com

By |March 9th, 2016|Categories: Eminent domain, News, Pipeline Construction, Property Rights|

Faherty Law Firm Presents Evidence Against Sunoco Eminent Domain

Can Cumberland County farmland be taken for pipeline? Monday’s hearing to continue Feb. 29

It was difficult to tell who was getting more honks from passing cars – the handful of protesters or the man in a Statue of Liberty costume advertising a tax-preparation service.

But cars were honking, and what was clear from the signs the protesters carried was that they did not want Sunoco Pipeline’s proposed Mariner East II running through Cumberland County.

And while there were a few protesters outside of the Cumberland County Courthouse Monday morning, about 30 more people filled a courtroom, coming out in support of three Upper Frankford Township property owners who fear having a liquid natural gas pipeline running under their land.

It will devalue their properties, cutting them by about 40 percent, property owner Rolfe Blume said.
Property Owners Oppose Pipeline Upper Frankford Township resident Rolfe Blume addresses why he opposes Sunoco Pipeline’s plans to run a natural gas pipeline through his property.

And it could be dangerous, too, neighbor John Perry added, saying there is a 1,000-foot “hazard zone” around the proposed line that could affect his land and the people who live nearby should there be an accident.

After the first day of a hearing in Cumberland County Court, the main question at issue remains unanswered. Does Sunoco Pipeline have the authority to take a portion of land from three Cumberland County property owners?

Judge M.L. “Skip” Ebert heard from the company and from the property owners who filed objections with court over Sunoco Pipeline’s declaration of taking.

Sunoco officials indicate they have that authority, saying they are a public utility with the right to exercise eminent domain to take land in the services of public need.

“We’ve had decisions in three other counties to date involving eight separate properties,” said communications manager for Sunoco, Jeff Shields. “They said very clearly that we are a public utility with eminent domain authority and our project is something that serves the public need.”

But the property owners argue otherwise.

“The only need here is for Sunoco to make a profit,” said Michael Faherty, the attorney representing the property owners.

Both parties will have to wait a little while longer to find out who is right, though. The hearing will not resume again until Feb. 29.

Faherty worked to build the case on Monday that under state law, eminent domain cannot be used for private enterprise, even if there is an element of public use.

Can a pipeline builder take your property through eminent domain?

Can a pipeline builder take your property through eminent domain?

If a state grants public utility status to pipeline builder, the company eminent domain rights. But is it really a public utility?

And since the Mariner East pipeline expansion, called Mariner East II, will be used for overseas export, that constitutes a private enterprise and no public need, he argued.

Additionally, this makes Sunoco’s Mariner East II pipeline an interstate pipeline rather than an intrastate pipeline, and thus subject to federal regulations, which do not grant Sunoco eminent domain, he said.

But Sunoco Pipeline’s attorneys said many of these issues were already resolved not just in other counties, but in Cumberland County, as well, when Judge Edward Guido ruled in favor of the company’s ability to exercise its power of eminent domain.

Expanding the pipeline system with Mariner East II became necessary with the frigid temperatures that came with the polar vortex in the winter of 2013 and 2014, creating a greater public need for propane, vice president of business development Aaron Alexander testified Monday.

Faherty pointed out, though, that the propane will be going across Pennsylvania and into Delaware for shipment overseas.

“How does that benefit the public in Pennsylvania?” Faherty asked.

Alexander told him the public benefiting can also include the shipping companies.

And when Faherty went on to point out the contracts currently associated with the expansion do not require offloading in Pennsylvania, Alexander countered offloading locally is not required, but the contracts do allow for it.

“They allow for intrastate movements as well as interstate movements,” he said.

Alexander also said he does not agree with Faherty’s labeling Sunoco Pipeline as private enterprise, saying the company is a public utility and their rates have been approved by the the state.

When Blume, who has owned his Upper Frankford Township property since 1965, took the stand, he said the pipeline will prevent crops from growing and will ruin several buildings on his land.

And being in a “hazard zone” around the pipeline devalues his property and will make it difficult to sell, he said.

But Sunoco Pipeline’s attorney, Alan Boynton, countered that the pipeline will be underground, and property owners are still free to use the land above however they wish. Any damage will be compensated, as well, he said.

Though the hearing has been continued until the end of the month, property-owner Perry did not feel too confident about their chances of success. The judge indicated he’s still bound by his fellow judge’s ruling unless he hears something different than what has already been ruled upon.

“They keep missing the point,” Perry said. “A lot of this natural gas going through the pipeline will be shipped overseas.”

And Blume, who carries a folder full of photos of burning infernos from pipelines, is hoping the judge will prevent the pipeline from going through his land.

“The line they want to put in is 100 feet from the farmhouse,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”

Written By Steve Marroni | pennlive.com
Photo Caption: Nathan Sooy and Betsy Conover hold signs outside of the Cumberland County Courthouse in support of several Upper Frankford Township residents who are fighting eminent domain proceedings initiated by a pipeline company. (Steve Marroni/PennLive.com) pennlive.com

By |February 9th, 2016|Categories: Condemnation, Eminent domain, News, Pipeline Construction|

Faherty Law Office Opens – Specializing in Eminent Domain for Pennsylvania Land Owners

opening_post
On February 28, 2015 Mike Faherty relocated his eminent domain law practice from a Harrisburg law firm to Faherty Law Firm, 75 Cedar Avenue, Hershey PA 17033. Mike may be reached at mfaherty@fahertylawfirm.com or at (717) 256-3000. Mike will continue his protection of private property rights in Pennsylvania with his associate attorney Tara B. Horvath. Mike continues in his service as the Pennsylvania representative of the Owners Counsel of America.

Mike will also continue as author on his blog to keep property owners up-to-date with relevant issues concerning Eminent Domain in Pennsylvania. This blog may be found here on www.fahertylawfirm.com.

By |March 12th, 2015|Categories: News|