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Sunoco reaches settlement to continue Mariner East 2 drilling

| Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017, 12:18 p.m.
Bentonite slurry builds up against a sandbag barrier at Loyalhanna Lake on Friday, July 21, 2017. Sunoco has reached an agreement with three environmental groups to resume horizontal drilling for the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Included in the settlement is a provision that Sunoco officials will take a closer look at areas like Loyalhanna Lake, where the slurry spills occurred.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Bentonite slurry builds up against a sandbag barrier at Loyalhanna Lake on Friday, July 21, 2017. Sunoco has reached an agreement with three environmental groups to resume horizontal drilling for the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Included in the settlement is a provision that Sunoco officials will take a closer look at areas like Loyalhanna Lake, where the slurry spills occurred.

HARRISBURG — State officials, environmental groups and the owners of a natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania have reached an agreement to allow horizontal directional drilling to continue for the Mariner East 2 pipeline while providing protections to the public.

In the settlement released this week, Sunoco Pipeline L.P. agreed to re-evaluate high-risk sites associated with the project that traverses Westmoreland County en route from West Virginia and Ohio to Philadelphia. Drilling plans for those sites will then need to be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection for approval.

Sunoco also agreed to send plans to homeowners who have private wells near the drilling areas and offer to have their water tested.

The agreement canceled a scheduled hearing Wednesday before the state's Environmental Hearing Board on a petition to halt all Sunoco drilling.

Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard Labuskes Jr. signed off on the settlement on Wednesday, according to Clean Air Council Senior Litigation Attorney Alex Bomstein.

“We continue to appeal the permits, which we believe were wrongly issued in the first place and endangered the public and environment,” Bomstein said. “But the request we had to the judge to halt horizontal directional drilling is now withdrawn, and Sunoco has agreed to add protections for the public and environment.”

The pipeline project has been protested by Pennsylvanians who blame it for fouling their well water or spilling a clay lubricant at various sites.

Eleven spills of the lubricant, a nontoxic mix of clay and water called bentonite, have occurred in Westmoreland County , according to documents released by the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council as part of litigation.

Paul Toman, park manager at the Loyalhanna Lake Recreation Area where one of the bentonite spills occurred, said Sunoco has done a good job cleaning up the spill site.

“From July 24 through last week, they were removing sandbags and silt curtains, and removing bentonite from the lawn areas,” Toman said. “They cleaned things up and re-seeded the area. They're not completely done, but they've made a lot of progress as far as remedial measures.”

Toman said he does not anticipate any long-term effects of the spill.

Sunoco Pipeline spokesman Jeff Shields said the settlement will allow hundreds of workers to go back on the job.

“We will continue to adhere to the strict conditions of our permits, including the enhanced standards for planning, outreach and reporting,” he said in a statement.

Construction on the $2.5 billion, 350-mile pipeline, which will carry propane, butane and ethane, began soon after the state DEP issued its final permits in February. In Westmoreland County, the pipeline crosses parts of Sewickley, Hempfield, Penn, Salem, Loyalhanna and Derry townships. Other affected municipalities include Jeannette, Export, Delmont and Murrysville.

The 20- and 16-inch pipelines will be able to carry 275,000 barrels of liquid natural gas a day and cross 270 properties over 36 miles in Westmoreland County. The new pipelines will run parallel to the Mariner East I line.

Tribune-Review staff writer Patrick Varine contributed to this report.

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