Pennsylvania’s attorney general filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the case at a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, where Sunoco Pipeline LP spilled thousands of gallons of drilling fluid last year. The spill, during construction of the troubled Mariner East 2 pipeline, fouled wetlands, a stream and part of a 535-acre lake.
Energy Transfer, Sunoco’s owner, faces 48 criminal charges, most of them for releasing industrial waste at 22 sites in 11 counties across the state. Shapiro said Energy Transfer contaminated the drinking water of at least 150 families statewide.
The charges are for “illegal behavior that related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline that polluted our lakes, our rivers and our water wells and put Pennsylvania’s safety at risk,” said Shapiro, speaking with Marsh Creek Lake behind him.
Messages were sent to Energy Transfer seeking comment.
The multibillion-dollar pipeline project has been the focus of criminal probes. At one point, a statewide investigating grand jury subpoenaed the company for documents relating to the inadvertent release of drilling fluids and effects on water supplies.
Energy Transfer acknowledged in a recent earnings report that the attorney general has been looking at “alleged criminal misconduct involving the construction and related activities of the Mariner East pipelines..” The company said it was cooperating but that “it intends to vigorously defend itself.”
The August 2020 spill at Marsh Creek was among a series of episodes that has plagued Mariner East since construction began in 2017, making it one of the most penalized projects in state history.
The company has paid more than $16.4 million in fines for polluting waterways and drinking water wells, including a $12.6 million fine in 2018 that was one of the largest ever imposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection. State regulators have periodically shut down construction.
But environmental activists and homeowners who assert their water has been fouled say that fines and periodic shutdown orders have not forced Sunoco to clean up its act. They have been demanding revocation of Mariner East’s permits.
The Mariner East pipeline system transports propane, ethane and butane from the enormous Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale gas fields in western Pennsylvania to a refinery processing center and export terminal in Marcus Hook, outside Philadelphia.
Shapiro’s news conference was originally rescheduled for Monday, but was abruptly postponed after his office said it had received last-minute “new information” that it needed to assess.
Texas-based Energy Transfer also operates the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which went into service in 2017 after months of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others during its construction.
Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press