Chester Co. DA opens criminal investigation into Sunoco pipelines

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Chester Co. DA opens criminal investigation into Sunoco pipelines
Chester Co. DA opens criminal investigation into Sunoco pipelines. John Rawlins reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on December 19, 2018.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Chester County District Attorney's Office has opened a criminal investigation into the construction of the Mariner East 1, 2, and 2X pipelines.

District Attorney Tom Hogan announced Wednesday the investigation includes the owners of the pipelines - Energy Transfer LP, Sunoco Logistics Partners, and related corporate entities.

"In the last two years, we have seen these pipelines rip through the heart of Chester County. We have seen sinkholes created by the pipeline drilling, contaminated well water, and some subtle and not-so-subtle bullying of Chester County citizens by big corporate interests," Hogan said in a statement.

Sunoco Pipeline LP, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, has nearly completed work on the 350-mile-long, 20-inch diameter Mariner East 2 pipeline to carry propane, butane and ethane from western Pennsylvania across the southern portion of the state to a terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. A second, 16-inch diameter line, Mariner East 2x, is following the same route.

Mariner East 1, which dates to the 1930s, has been sending natural gas liquids eastward for over a year.

In March, Action News reported on sinkholes in West Whiteland Township that officials say were caused by the continued operation of Sunoco's Mariner 1 East system.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued a stop-work order on the Mariner East 1.

Sinkholes open at homes near Pa. pipeline project. Annie McCormick reports during Action News at 4:30pm on March 5, 2018.

In the beginning of May, the order was lifted. At the same time, Sunoco agreed to pay $355,000 for polluting waterways in 14 counties while building the Mariner East 2.

Later in May, an administrative law judge shut down work on the pipelines, saying Sunoco failed to take reasonable steps to warn people and protect them from danger.

Public Utility Commission Judge Elizabeth Barnes ruled the company had to stop work on the Mariner East 2 pipeline in West Whiteland Township and halt the use of Mariner East 1 to transport liquid fuels through the area.

Judge shuts down work on Sunoco pipelines, cites danger: Chad Pradelli reports on Action News at 6 p.m., May 24, 2018

Barnes said Sunoco failed to take reasonable steps to warn people and protect them from danger. She said there was evidence that drilling practices have put water supplies at risk, and she cited a history of leaks and failures to report spills when they've occurred, sinkholes, and the possibility of a public catastrophe.

The judge said state Sen. Andy Dinniman, who sought the ruling, showed the company's drilling practices are putting water supplies at risk.

In June, the Public Utility Commission voted 3-2 to allow Sunoco Pipeline LLC to resume use of the Mariner East 1 pipeline, with the chairman saying there was no new credible evidence to think it can't be operated safely. It reversed the administrative law judge's order.

Judge shuts down work on Sunoco pipelines, cites danger: Chad Pradelli reports on Action News at 6 p.m., May 24, 2018

The regulators ruled that more information is required before work could continue on building a 3.5-mile portion of Mariner East 2 and a companion line through Chester County. Those details include inspection and testing protocols, as well as safety training.

Sunoco said it was pleased to be able to restart Mariner East 1, but said stopping work on the two other projects ran afoul of the law.

Dinniman called the decision a mixed bag. He said Mariner East 1 represents the greater potential danger.

"We continue to have very real and significant concerns regarding the stability of Mariner East 1," Dinniman said in a statement, describing it as "an 87-year-old pipeline carrying highly volatile natural gas liquids within close proximity of schools, playgrounds, senior care facilities, neighborhoods, a library, shopping mall, and rail line, to name just a few."

Sunoco's statement said Dinniman should not have been allowed to bring the legal challenge before the commission.

"This can only be seen as an inherently political decision as Sen. Dinniman does not have legal standing to bring this suit in his political capacity and if he lacks standing, the entire administrative law judge's decision should have been reversed," the company said.

The D.A. said the investigation will cover both past and future conduct related to the pipelines. Potential charges include causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, environmental crimes, and corrupt organizations.

Those who could face criminal charges, according to the D.A., include individual employees involved, "from workers on the pipelines through corporate officers."

"We expected the state regulators and the governor to step in and assure the safety of Pennsylvanians. They have not. So now the Chester County District Attorney's Office will demand that every aspect of these pipelines be conducted safely, or we will bring into play all of the tools of the criminal justice system," Hogan said.

Hogan said Sunoco has been advised of this investigation via a letter.

(Note: The video in the player is from a previous story.)


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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