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?