Map Update on Criminal Charges Facing Mariner East 2 Pipeline
On October 5th, 2021, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro charged Energy Transfer with 48 counts of environmental crimes for its construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline.
The presentment by the Forty-Fifth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury describes issues at 21 specific locations, including massive spills of industrial waste into waterways, sinkholes, and many permit violations.
We’ve mapped these 21 spots, alongside over 120 violations Energy Transfer has incurred and still more pipeline incidents.
Our previous analysis quantified the volume of industrial waste this pipeline has released into the environment. However, given Energy Transfer’s inaccurate reporting of such incidents, we can’t trust that the numbers reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) are accurate. We didn’t update these statistics, and the values included in the map above should be read with a degree of caution.
Mariner East 2 Pipeline
This interactive map looks at the 21 spots where the Investigating Grand Jury identified issues, alongside over 120 violations Energy Transfer has incurred and still more pipeline incidents. This map includes a timeline. Press the play button to see the violations and other incidents appear over time. Click on the map to explore the dynamic version of this data. Data sources are also listed at the end of this article. In order to turn layers on and off in the map, use the Layers dropdown menu.
Issues along the entire route
The grand jury report also describes chronic violations that span the entire pipeline route. Energy Transfer repeatedly failed to notify regulators when it polluted waterways and when it drilled beneath waterways and sensitive environments. Energy Transfer damaged many private water supplies, with over 183 complaints reported to state regulators. In one case, the company even told a resident nothing was wrong with their water, while later tests revealed e-coli and fecal coliform that caused a person to be hospitalized. Energy Transfer also used unapproved additives in pipeline drilling fluid, including additives that contained secret, proprietary chemicals. Unfortunately, the company spilled additives with known health impacts into the environment and near drinking water aquifers.
What’s the punishment?
After its review of evidence, the grand jury recommended: “Energy Transfer be charged with 22 counts of Prohibition of Discharge of Industrial Waste under the Clean Streams Law; 22 counts of Prohibition Against Other Pollutions under the Clean Streams Law; two misdemeanor counts of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law; and one felony count of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law.”
Despite the investigation finding evidence of Energy Transfer’s disregard for the environment, the Attorney General’s Office does not have the authority to stop it. The authority to revoke the pipeline’s permits falls to the PA DEP. Many are also calling on Governor Wolf, whose administration has been under investigation by the FBI for permitting the Mariner East Project, to stop the pipeline. The sections of the pipeline that are still under construction, according to State Impact, are in Delaware and Chester counties.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro stated: “Under our state laws, if convicted, this company will be sentenced to fines and restitution. There is no jail time for these environmental crimes, and fines are not enough. That’s why we are, once again, calling for stronger laws to hold these companies accountable and protect Pennsylvanians’ health, and demanding DEP toughen up the independent oversight we need them to provide for the industries they regulate.”
Many policy recommendations include increasing the distance between pipelines and homes and buildings. The Protective Buffers PA coalition, made up of local environmental advocacy organizations including FracTracker, recently launched ProtectiveBuffersPA.org to advocate for protective setback distances between oil and gas infrastructure and vulnerable sites. The coalition recommends that pipelines carrying flammable gases like the Mariner East 2 be built 2,640 feet from any occupied building or parcel where vulnerable populations congregate, such as a school or hospital. The coalition also recommends that equipment used to drill pipelines horizontally beneath sensitive areas be placed at least 250 feet from the edge of any water body.
Who is responsible?
Fines have so far proved an ineffective method of changing Energy Transfer’s practices, as the PA DEP has already fined Energy Transfer over $20 million. During the Attorney General Office’s Press Conference on this investigation, reporters asked if individuals would face criminal charges. AG Josh Shapiro sidestepped a direct answer, stating that “we made out every single criminal charge we could make out based on the evidence that we have, and….the investigation is ongoing.”
There are also subcontractors to consider. All of the specific sites included in the grand jury report entail issues with a type of pipeline crossing called Horizontal Directional Drills (HDD), which Energy Transfer hired many subcontractors to complete. The grand jury report references eleven different subcontractors for the 21 problematic HDD sites, and there are 132 HDD crossings along the whole pipeline. According to a witness from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, “given the number of HDDs that they planned for on this project, they were searching high and low for any HDD driller across the country who could come and work on the pipeline in order to get it done as quickly as possible.”
The report continues, “Sunoco [which merged with Energy Transfer in 2017] and its prime contractors hired HDD subcontractors from across the country who were unfamiliar with Pennsylvania geology and water features as well as the regulatory landscape that existed in the state.”
The grand jury report also states, “the subcontractors had no incentive not to report incidents, because they were paid whether they were standing idle or working.” While this seems like a fair policy, when HDDs cause industrial waste to spill into the environment, work is often paused, and completing a crossing can take months or years. It would appear that issues at an HDD site would actually make a subcontractor more money. Given that much of the Mariner East 2’s problems were caused by HDD construction delegated to subcontractors, how are they held accountable?
Stopping Petrochemical Expansion
The Mariner East 2 Pipeline is a unique project for a few reasons: it’s a large pipeline that passes through densely populated areas, the company used eminent domain to build it— so it passes through the property of unwilling people who were forced to agree to it— and it’s carrying natural gas liquids for petrochemical production abroad, not for domestic energy use. Yet the issues with it are not unique. Throughout the region, pipelines like the Mariner East Project and the Falcon Ethane Pipeline System are ruining drinking water, causing landslides, and harming aquatic life in the pursuit of private profit. Even scarier, when turned on, faulty construction poses the risk of life-threatening explosions, like the 2018 Revolution Pipeline explosion in Center Township, Pennsylvania and the 2015 ATEX ethane pipeline explosion in Follansbee, West Virginia.
The Take Away
Fines and stronger policy, while important, won’t fix a corrupt industry. And if the Mariner East 2 Pipeline is convicted of these crimes but is still allowed to operate, it will only serve as further evidence that regulatory systems only fine destruction but won’t prevent or stop it.
We join the national movement calling on leaders to put an end to new and expanding petrochemical infrastructure. No one’s health or safety should be sacrificed for plastic production or the wealth of a multinational oil and gas corporation.
References & Where to Learn More
Pipeline Incidents: PA DEP, 10/21/21, mapped by FracTracker Alliance.
Sites listed in Attorney General Report: The Forty-Fifth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, 10/05/21, mapped by FracTracker Alliance.
Mariner East 2 Pipeline: PA DEP. This data layer was obtained from the PA DEP in September, 2016, and the pipeline route may have changed since then.
ME2 Pipeline Incidents and Violations: Compiled by FracTracker Alliance. Last updated October 5, 2021.
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