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Mariner East 2: More Spills & Sinkholes Too?

The Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline, currently being built by Sunoco Pipeline (Energy Transfer Partners), is a massive 350-mile long pipeline that, if completed, will carry 275,000 barrels of propane, ethane, butane, and other hydrocarbons per day from the shale gas fields of Western Pennsylvania to a petrochemical export terminal located on the Delaware River.

ME2 has faced numerous challenges from concerned citizens since Sunoco first announced plans for the project in 2014. Fights over taking private property by eminent domain, eyebrow raising permit approvals with known technical deficiencies, as well as nearly a hundred drilling mud spills — inadvertent returns (IRs) — at horizontal directional drilling (HDD) sites have occurred since work began in 2017.

This article and the accompanying map brings us up-to-date on the number, location, and status of ME2’s HDD spills. We also summarize the growing list of violations and settlements related to these events. Finally, we highlight the most recent concerns related to ME2’s construction: sinkholes emerging along the pipeline’s path in karst geological formations.

Map of ME2 Updated HDDs, IRs & Karst

The map below shows an updated visual of ME2’s IRs, as of the DEP’s latest tally on March 1, 2018. Included on this map are HDDs where DEP ordered Sunoco reevaluate construction sites to prevent additional spills. Also identified on this map are locations where Sunoco was ordered to notify landowners in close proximity to certain HDDs prior to additional drilling. Finally, the below map illustrates how sinkholes are not a problem unique to one site of construction but are, in fact, common to many areas along ME2’s route. These topics are discussed in greater depth below.

Open the map full-screen to view additional layers not available in the embedded version below.

View Map Fullscreen | How FracTracker Maps Work



HDDs & Inadvertent Returns – Redux

In July 2017, the PA Environmental Hearing Board granted a two week halt to ME2’s HDD operations. The temporary injunction was in response to petitions from the Clean Air CouncilMountain Watershed Association, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network following IRs­­ at more than 60 sites that contaminated dozens of private drinking water wells, as well as nearby streams and wetlands. FracTracker first wrote about these issues in this prior article.

HDD IR in Washington County
(image: Observer-Reporter)

Despite these issues, and despite Sunoco being cited for 33 violations, ME2 was allowed to proceed under an August 7th agreement that stated Sunoco must reevaluate their HDD plans to minimize additional spills. These studies were to include re-examining the site’s geology and conducting seismic surveys. Sites for reevaluation were selected based on factors such as proximity water supplies, nearby streams and wetlands, problematic geologic conditions, and if an IR had occurred at that site previously. Of ME2’s 230 HDDs, 64 were ordered for reevaluation — 22 of these were selected due to prior IRs occurring at the site.

The DEP mandated that Sunoco’s reevaluation studies be put out for public comment. A table of which HDD studies are currently out for comment can be found here. DEP’s settlement also required Sunoco to notify landowners in proximity to certain HDDs prior to commencing construction due to elevated risks. Of the 64 HDD sites under review, Sunoco must notify 17 residents within 450ft of an HDD site, and 22 residents within 150ft of other sites. The HDD reevaluation sites are shown on the FracTracker map above. Below is an illustration of one site where Sunoco is required to notify landowners within 450ft.

One issue residents have raised with these notifications is that Sunoco is allowed to offer landowners the option to connect their homes to a water buffalo during drilling as an alternative to using their groundwater well. The catch is that, if their well does become contaminated, they would also waive their right to have Sunoco drill them a new replacement well.

“Egregious Violations”

In January 2018, the DEP again suspended ME2’s construction, this time indefinitely revoking their permits, due to even more IRs. DEP also cited Sunoco for “egregious and willful” permit violations —mainly executing HDDs at sites where they had no permission to do so. The DEP noted of their decision that, “a permit suspension is one of the most significant penalties DEP can levy.”

Nevertheless, Sunoco was again allowed to resume construction on February 8, 2018, after paying a $12.6 million fine. The DEP press release accompanying the decision assured the public that, “Sunoco has demonstrated that it has taken steps to ensure the company will conduct the remaining pipeline construction activities in accordance with the law and permit conditions, and will be allowed to resume.”

A few weeks later, Sunoco ran a full-page advertisement in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, shown above, lauding their safety record. Among other notables, the piece boasts, “State and federal regulators spent more than 100 inspection days during 2017 on the Mariner East project, more inspection days than on any other pipeline in Pennsylvania.” Critics have noted that the inordinate number of inspections are due to the comedy of errors associated with ME2’s construction.

Karst Formations & Sinkholes

Which brings us to the current ME2 debacle. Last week, the PA Public Utility Commission (PUC) ordered a temporary shutdown of Mariner East 1 (ME1), another natural gas liquids pipeline owned by Sunoco/ETP. ME1 was built in the 1930s and its right-of-way is being used for most of ME2’s route across the state. This latest construction setback comes in the wake of numerous sinkholes that emerged beginning in December along Lisa Drive in West Whitehead Township, a suburb of Philadelphia in Chester County.

The most recent of these sinkholes grew into a 20ft-deep, 15ft-wide chasm that exposed portions of ME1 and came within 10ft of a house. It is worth noting that, until only a few days ago, ME1 was an operational 8in pipeline with a potential impact radius (aka “blast zone”) of some 500ft. The PUC ordered that Sunoco must now run a line inspection on ME1 for a mile upstream and a mile downstream from the sinkhole sites along Lisa Drive, seen in the image below. Note the proximity of these sinkholes to Amtrak’s Keystone rail lines (connecting Pittsburgh to Philadelphia), under which ME2 also runs. The Federal Railway Administration only recently learned of the sink holes from a nearby resident.

The Lisa Drive sinkholes are being credited to Sunoco executing an HDD in an area known to have karst geological formations. Sunoco has been ordered by the PUC to conduct more geophysical testing and seismic analyses of the area because of this. Karst is often called the “Swiss cheese” of geology — notorious for caves, sinkholes, and underground rivers. As these geological formations change shape, pipelines can bend and settle over time, ultimately leading to potentially dangerous gas leakages or explosions. For instance, the 2015 Atex-1 pipeline explosion in Follansbee, WV, was ultimately determined by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSA) as having been caused by ground settling. That explosion released some 24,000 barrels of ethane, burning more than five acres of surrounding land.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) maintains fairly detailed maps of rock formations for most states, including formations known to have karst. In PA, there are a number of “carbonate” rock families known for karst features and settlement issues: limestone and dolostone, and, to a lesser extent, shale. Meanwhile, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has maintained a record of karst “features” — sinkholes and surface depressions — documented since 1985. A great explanation of the different types of karst features can be found here.

Underestimating the Risks

What is concerning about the Lisa Drive sinkholes is that Sunoco had supposedly already conducted additional karst geological reviews of the area as part of the August DEP settlement, subsequently ranking a nearby HDD (#PA-CH-0219) as “low risk” for running into karst issues—despite knowing the HDD runs through a karst formation with sinkholes and surface depressions in the area. For the HDD that runs the length of Lisa Drive (#PA-CH-0256), the study rated its risk as “very low.” These two HDDs are shown below, along with the area of ME1 now under structural review.

The likely result of these inaccurate assessments led to two IRs at Lisa Drive, one in October and another in November 0f 2017. DEP’s writeup of these events note that the total volume of drilling muds spilled remains unknown because Sunoco didn’t report the incident. Then, only a month later, sinkholes emerged in the same locations. An image of the November HDD IR is shown below.

It is important to note two additional things of Sunoco’s karst study, an except of which is seen in their map of the West Whiteland area below. First, Lisa Drive is just on the edge of a karst limestone formation. USGS data suggest the location is actually mica schist, but the USGS data is also only a rough estimate of different formations. This underscores why pipeline companies must be required to conduct detailed geotechnical analysis of all HDD sites at the onset of their projects.

The other notable aspect of Sunoco’s study is that it does not fully represent all rock formations known to have karst features. In Sunoco’s map, we see orange shading for limestone, but this does not include dolostone that underlies the many surface depressions and sinkholes surrounding West Whiteland. FracTracker’s map includes these formations for greater accuracy.

Takeaways

Interestingly, as Anya Litvak of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed in her reporting on the Lisa Drive incident, Sunoco’s updated karst assessment ranked the entire route of the ME2 pipeline through the state as “low to very low” risk for potential issues. Furthermore, Sunoco has tried to downplay the Lisa Drive incident, stating that “all areas have been secured,” and that additional incidents are unlikely to occur.

But the overall relationship between Mariner East 2’s IRs, HDD sites, and known karst features tells a very different story than Sunoco’s about the potential risks of ME2. In addition to the concerns about new sinkholes near Lisa Drive, FracTracker found the following in our analysis:

  • 7 sinkholes and 386 surface depressions are within 1,500ft of a ME2 HDD site.
  • Of the 230 HDDs, 87 are located in carbonate rock areas (52 in limestone/dolostone, 35 in shale).
  • Of the 99 IRs, 39 have occurred in carbonate rock areas (23 in limestone/dolostone, 16 in shale).

In other words, nearly half of the IRs caused by ME2 HDDs were located in areas known to have karst formations. Worth noting is that an additional 15 occurred in sandstone formations, also known to cause settlement over time. The remaining IRs are split across nine other formation types.

Considering that the DEP’s current review of Sunoco’s ability to safely execute future HDDs are based on the same karst study that missed the Lisa Drive HDD and ranked nearby HDDs as a “low” risk, one can only assume that additional spills will occur. There are many more HDD sites yet to be drilled, and also not likely studied fully for potential karst risks. As illustrated by the continuing saga of spills, violations, and omissions, it is clear that Sunoco has not maintained a high standard of construction in building ME2 from the onset.

We thank Eric Friedman from the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety for supplying photos of the Lisa Drive site used in this article.

By Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker Alliance

ME2 pipeline and spills map by Kirk Jalbert

Mariner East 2 Drilling Fluid Spills – Updated Map and Analysis

Updated 8/2/17: An analysis by FracTracker and the Clean Air Council finds that approximately 202,000 gallons of drilling fluids have been accidentally released in 90 different spill events while constructing the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania. In a more recent update, FracTracker estimates these occurred at 42 distinct locations. Explore the map of these incidents below, which we have updated to reflect this growing total.

Last week, a judge with the PA Environmental Hearing Board granted a two week halt to horizontal directional drilling (HDD) operations pertaining to the construction of Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline. The temporary injunction responds to a petition from the Clean Air Council, Mountain Watershed Association, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. It remains in effect until a full hearing on the petition occurs on August 7-9, 2017.

ME2 is a 350-mile long pipeline that, when complete, will carry 275,000 barrels of propane, ethane, butane, and other hydrocarbons per day from the shale gas fields of Western Pennsylvania to a petrochemical export terminal located on the Delaware River.

The petition relates to a complaint filed by the three groups detailing as many as 90 “inadvertent returns” (IRs) of drilling fluids and other drilling related spills along ME2’s construction route. IRs refer to incidents that occur during HDD operations in which drilling fluids consisting of water, bentonite clay, and some chemical mixtures used to lubricate the drill bit, come to the surface in unintended places. This can occur due to misdirected drilling, unanticipated underground fissures, or equipment failure.

What is Horizontal Directional Drilling?

An illustration of an “ideal” horizontal directional drilling boring operation is seen in the first graphic below (image source). The second image shows what happens when HDDs go wrong (image source).

hdd_crossing_example

hdd_ir

Mapping Inadvertent Returns

me2_ir_legendThe Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) posted information on potential regulatory violations associated with these IRs on the PA Pipeline Portal website on July 24, 2017. This original file listed 49 spill locations. Our original map was based on those locations. As part of their legal filing, volunteer at the Clean Air Council (CAC) have parsed through DEP documents to discover 90 unique spills at these and other locations. On July 31, 2017, the DEP posted a new file that now lists 61 spills, which account for some of these discrepancies but not all.

Working with the CAC, we have created a map, seen below, of the 90 known IRs listed in the DEP documents and from CAC’s findings. Also on the map are the locations of all of ME2’s HDD boring locations, pumping stations, and workspaces, as well as all the streams, ponds, and wetlands listed in Sunoco’s permits as implicated in the project’s construction (see our prior article on ME2’s watershed implications here). Open the map full-screen to see many of these features and their more detailed information.

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Analysis Results for ME2

From our analysis, we find that, conservatively, more than 202,000 gallons of drilling fluids have been accidentally released while constructing the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania since the first documented incident on May 3rd. We say conservatively because a number of incidents are still under investigation. In a few instances we may never know the full volume of the spills as only a fraction of the total drilling muds lost were recovered.

We analyzed where these 90 spills occurred relative to known HDD sites and estimate that there are 38 HDDs implicated in these accidents. An additional 11 spills were found at sites where the DEP’s data shows no HDDs, so we calculate the total number of “spill locations” at 42. A full breakdown by county and known gallons spilled at these locations is seen below.

County Number of IRs/Spills Gallons Spilled
Allegheny 4 2,050
Berks 3 540
Blair 3 2,400
Chester 4 205
Cumberland 32 162,330
Delaware 8 2,380
Huntingdon 1 300
Lancaster 7 5945
Lebanon 1 300
Washington 9 4,255
Westmoreland 17 21,532
York 1 25
Total 90 202,262

 

A few important notes on our methods and the available data we have to work with:

  1. CAC obtained spills from DEP incident reports, inadvertent return reports, and other documents describing spills of drilling fluid that have occurred during Mariner East 2 construction.  Those documents reflected incidents occurring between April 25, 2017 and June 17, 2017. In reviewing these documents, volunteers identified 61 discrete spills of drilling fluid, many of which happened at  similar locations. Unfortunately, separate coordinates and volumes were not provided for each spill.
  2. When coordinates were not provided, approximate locations of spills were assigned where appropriate, based on descriptions in the documentation. Two IRs have no known location information whatsoever. As such, they are not represented on the map.
  3. Spill volumes were reported as ranges when there was inconsistency in documentation regarding the same spill. The map circles represent the high-end estimates within these ranges. Of the 90 known spills, 29 have no volume data. These are represented on the map, but with a volume estimate of zero until more information is available.
  4. All documentation available to CAC regarding these spills was filed with the Environmental Hearing Board on July 19, 2017. DEP subsequently posted a table of inadvertent returns on its website on July 24, 2017.  Some of those spills were the same as ones already identified in documents CAC had reviewed, but 29 of the spills described on the DEP website were ones for which CCAC had never received documentation, although a subset of these are now listed in brief in the DEP spreadsheet posted on July 31, 2017. In total then, the documentation provided to CAC from DEP and spreadsheets on the DEP website describe at least 90 spills.

HDD Implications

The DEP’s press release assures the public that the drilling fluids are non-toxic and the IRs are “not expected to have any lasting effects on impacted waters of the commonwealth.” But this is not entirely the case. While the fluids themselves are not necessarily a public health threat, the release of drilling fluids into aquifers and drinking wells can make water unusable. This occurred in June in Chester County, for example.

More commonly, drilling fluid sediment in waterways can kill aquatic life due to the fine particulates associated with bentonite clay. Given that HDD is primarily used to lay pipe under streams, rivers, and ponds (as well as roads, parks, and other sensitive areas), this latter risk is a real concern. Such incidents have occurred in many of the instances cited in the DEP documents, including a release of drilling muds into a creek in Delaware County in May.

We hope the above map and summaries provide insights into the current risks associated with the project and levels of appropriate regulatory oversight, as well as for understanding the impacts associated with HDD, as it is often considered a benign aspect of pipeline construction.


By Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community Based Research and Engagement, FracTracker Alliance

If you have any questions about the map on this page or the data used to create it, please contact Kirk Jalbert at jalbert@fractracker.org.

Mariner East Technical Difficulties map

Remaining Questions on Mariner East Technical Deficiencies

In the summer of 2015, Sunoco Logistics submitted applications to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build its massive Mariner East 2 pipeline. The ME 2 pipeline would have the capacity to transport 275,000 barrels a day of propane, ethane, butane, and other hydrocarbons from the shale fields of Western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook export terminal, located on the Delaware River.

Sunoco’s applications were to satisfy the state’s Chapter 105 (water obstruction and encroachment) and Chapter 102 (erosion/sediment control and earth disturbance) permitting requirements. The DEP responded to Sunoco’s application, issuing 20 deficiency letters totaling more than 550 pages. Sunoco resubmitted their application in the summer of 2016 and the DEP again rejected many of its plans to disturb streams, ponds, and wetlands. In December, Sunoco resubmitted its revised application for a third time, hoping for final approval.

FracTracker Alliance first wrote about ME 2’s risks to watershed in August 2016, following Sunoco’s second application. Readers who want a general overview of the issues may find that article worth reading. In this new article, we dig deeper into the subject. Along with its December application, Sunoco also supplied the DEP with revised GIS files illustrating ME 2’s new route and documents summarizing its impacts to nearby water bodies. We have created a new map utilizing newly available data and provide contextual analysis valuable in determining how Sunoco responds to the DEP’s review of its prior rejected applications.

Detailed Mapping of Water Body Impacts

At the end of December, the DEP finally released Sunoco’s GIS files detailing water bodies that will be impacted by ME 2, as well as Sunoco’s data tables outlining alternative methods that might mitigate certain impacts. Our map (below) combines these new datasets to show the locations where ME 2’s route has changed since Sunoco’s initial application, presumably in response to the DEP’s technical deficiency letter.

Also on this map are water bodies: 1) implicated in ME 2’s environmental impact assessment, 2) determined by the DEP as likely impacted by construction, and 3) identified by Sunoco as having viable construction alternatives to mitigate impacts.

Mariner East 2 Technical Deficiencies Map


View map fullscreenHow FracTracker maps work

By viewing the map fullscreen and zooming in, one can click on a water feature to reveal its data tables (see below example). These tables contain information on the water body’s flow regime, the extent of permanent and temporary impacts, alternative crossing methods that could be used, and what benefits might come from those alternate methods. Also in the tables are a number of designations such as:

  • USGS Fish and Wildlife wetland classification (see guide). Most common are PEM (palustrine emergent wetland), PSS (palustrine scrub-shrub wetland), PFO (palustrine forested wetland), and PuB (palustrine unconsolidated bottom – i.e. ponds).
  • PA DEP stream designation (see guide). Most common are WWF (warm water fishes), CWF (cold water fishes), HQ (high quality), and EV (exceptional value).
  • PA Fish and Boat Commission classifications (see guide). Most common are ATW (approved trout water), STS (stocked trout stream), Class A (class A water), and WTS (wilderness trout stream).

An example water body data table that can be found on the map:
me2-zoom-screenshot2

Our analysis of this new data reveals the number of water crossings in question is significantly higher than what we estimated in August: now totaling 1,222 streams, 34 ponds, and 708 wetlands crossings. This increase is primarily due to Sunoco’s data also containing information on ephemeral and intermittent waters that are not typically accounted for in USGS data (all that was available at the time of our prior analysis).

Defining Impacts

The DEP’s Chapter 105 Joint Permit Application Instructions break down “impacts” into two broad categories: permanent and temporary. These are primarily used to assess environmental impact fees, but are also valuable in determining what parameters Sunoco will be held to during and after ME 2’s construction.

Permanent impacts: are “areas affected by a water obstruction or encroachment that consist of both direct and indirect impacts that result from the placement or construction of a water obstruction or encroachment and include areas necessary for the operation and maintenance of the water obstruction or encroachment located in, along or across, or projecting into a watercourse, floodway or body of water.”

Permanent impacts are calculated using the pipeline’s 50-foot permanent right-of-way. For streams, all bed and banks are to be restored to pre-construction conditions. For ponds and wetlands, permanent impacts are assumed to remain even if the area is considered restored.

Temporary impacts: are “areas affected during the construction of a water obstruction or encroachment that consists of both direct and indirect impacts located in, along or across, or projecting into a watercourse, floodway or body of water that are restored upon completion of construction.” Temporary impacts consist of areas such as temporary workspaces and access roads.

The below table lists the total impacted acres broken down by county. Of interest here is that more than 175 acres would be permanently impacted — equivalent to 134 football fields — with an additional 82 acres temporarily impacted.

Table 1. Impacted Acres by County

County Permanent Impacts (acres) Temporary Impacts (acre)
Allegheny 1.85 0.39
Berks 11.14 4.88
Blair 11.70 6.72
Cambria 20.21 8.48
Chester 10.30 3.92
Cumberland 24.06 7.61
Dauphin 8.12 6.55
Delaware 5.05 3.33
Huntingdon 18.75 8.04
Indiana 11.42 4.73
Juniata 5.25 3.02
Lancaster 4.65 1.66
Lebanon 6.48 2.53
Perry 5.58 2.63
Washington 9.37 2.94
Westmoreland 17.72 12.36
York 3.46 2.16
Total 175.12 81.93

Viable Options to Reduce Impacts

Example of an open cut wet crossing

An open cut wet crossing (image source)

Pipeline companies cross water bodies using a variety of methods depending on their classification. The DEP maintains three general categories for water crossings: minor (in streams less than or equal to 10 feet wide at the water’s edge at the time of construction), intermediate (perennial stream crossings greater than 10 feet wide but less than 100 feet wide at the water’s edge at the time of construction), and major (crossings of more than 100 feet at the water’s edge at the time of construction).

Minor and intermediate crossings often employ rudimentary trenching along “open cut” crossings where the water is either temporarily diverted (wet crossing) or allowed to flow during construction (wet crossing). After the cuts, the company attempts to repair damage done in the process of trenching.

In more sensitive places, such as in exceptional value streams, wetlands, and always in major crossings, a company uses conventional boring to tunnel under a water feature. When boring over long distances, such as under a lake or river, a company turns to Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD), a more engineered form of boring. An example of HDD boring is seen below (image source):

hdd_crossing_example

We were surprised by the number of water crossings identified by Sunoco as having options to minimize impact. As the table below shows, more than 44% (869) of Sunoco’s crossings have an alternate method identified in the resubmitted applications. In most of these instances, the intended crossing method is either trenching through open cuts or dry crossings. The majority of identified alternatives would reduce impacts simply by altering the trenching route. 53 of the 869 were shown to have feasible conditions for conventional or HDD boring, but Sunoco categorized all of these as impracticable options despite their environmental benefits.

Table 2. Number of Crossings With and Without Viable Alternate Methods

Crossings Assessed but Unimpacted Impacted with No Alternative Impacted with Alternatives Total
Streams 313 925 297 1,535
Ponds 66 3 31 100
Wetlands 963 167 541 1,671
  1,342 1,095 869 3,306

Absorbing the Costs of Environmental Impacts

If executed, these alternative methods would decrease the length of crossings, limit right-of-way encroachments, prevent land fragmentation, and significantly reduce risks to larger water bodies. More likely, Sunoco will pay the impact fees associated with the less complicated crossing methods. We’ve summarized these fees (found in Sunoco’s resubmitted application) in the table below. In total, Sunoco would pay roughly $1.8 million in exchange for nearly 2,000 water body crossings – a fraction of the project’s $2.5 billion estimated cost:

Table 3. Impact Fees for Sunoco’s Preferred Crossings

County Permanent Impacts area (fees) Temporary Impact area (fees) Admin Fees Total Fees
Allegheny $15,200 $1,600 $1,750 $18,550
Berks $89,600 $19,600 $1,750 $110,950
Blair $94,400 $27,200 $1,750 $123,350
Cambria $162,400 $34,000 $1,750 $198,150
Chester $83,200 $16,000 $1,750 $100,950
Cumberland $192,800 $30,800 $1,750 $225,350
Dauphin $65,600 $26,400 $1,750 $93,750
Delaware $40,800 $13,600 $1,750 $56,150
Huntingdon $150,400 $32,400 $1,750 $184,550
Indiana $92,000 $19,200 $1,750 $112,950
Juniata $42,400 $12,400 $1,750 $56,550
Lancaster $37,600 $6,800 $1,750 $46,150
Lebanon $52,000 $10,400 $1,750 $64,150
Perry $44,800 $10,800 $1,750 $57,350
Washington $75,200 $12,000 $1,750 $88,950
Westmoreland $142,400 $50,000 $1,750 $194,150
York $28,000 $8,800 $1,750 $38,550
$1,408,800 $332,000 $29,750 $1,770,550

Conclusion

This week, acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell met with residents who voiced frustration that the agency failed to provide an additional public comment period following Sunoco’s application resubmission. Nevertheless, the DEP is expected to greenlight Sunoco’s plans any day now, adding another to the list of recent pipeline approvals in the region. Sunoco needs its permits now in order to begin clearing trees prior to endangered species bat nesting season, which begins in April.

Meanwhile, communities along the pipeline’s path are preparing for the sudden wave of disruption that may ensue. Some have threatened lawsuits, arguing that the resubmitted application still contains many deficiencies including missing wetlands and private drinking wells that must be accounted for. Indeed, the map and data presented in this article confirms that there is still a lot that the general public does not know about ME 2 – in particular, the extent of water impacts the DEP seems willing to accept and the range of options at Sunoco’s disposal that might mitigate those impacts if it were forced to do so.

Finally, it is encouraging to see that the DEP is becoming more transparent in sharing datasets, compared to other pipeline projects. However, this data is complex and not easily understood without sufficient technical expertise. We are discouraged to think that it is unlikely the public will learn about additional changes to the construction plan until after permits are issued. In order for data to be useful, it must be made available throughout the process, not at the end stages of planning, and done so in a way that it becomes integrated into the agency’s public participation responsibilities.


by Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community-Based Research & Engagement