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Mariner East 2 permit appeals dropped but opponents still 'strongly resist' the project

Jeff Himler
| Saturday, July 28, 2018, 4:33 p.m.
This map shows the approximate route and facility locations for Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East 1 and 2 pipeline projects, which will ship natural gas liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale areas to the company’s Marcus Hook complex near Philadelphia.
Sunoco Logistics
This map shows the approximate route and facility locations for Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East 1 and 2 pipeline projects, which will ship natural gas liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale areas to the company’s Marcus Hook complex near Philadelphia.

Three environmental groups have ended their appeals of state permits issued to Sunoco Pipeline LP for construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas pipeline.

Spanning Pennsylvania, the Mariner East 2 and the parallel Mariner East 1 pipeline are meant to carry pressurized propane, ethane and butane from the Marcellus shale region to a Sunoco refinery near Philadelphia.

In Westmoreland County, the pipelines traverse Sewickley, Hempfield, Penn, Salem, Loyalhanna and Derry townships.

No changes will be made to the 20 permits that had been challenged by the Melcroft-based Mountain Watershed Association, the Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In a settlement in the case approved Thursday, DEP agreed to make available online all non-privileged, non-confidential permit application materials and supporting documents for pipeline projects such as the Mariner East 2. That includes technical deficiency letters issued by the department and the resulting responses from applicants.

DEP also plans to convene a group of stakeholders — including representatives of DEP, of the appealing organizations and of pipeline proponents — who will offer input as DEP develops “more formalized guidance on pipeline construction.”

DEP has agreed to initiate the stakeholder group within 90 days and share documents developed through the group within a year.

The three environmental groups have been invited to each have a representative take part as DEP evaluates changes to the application process for erosion and sediment control permits for earth disturbance related to oil and gas facilities.

DEP fined Sunoco Pipeline $355,000 for violating the Clean Streams Law between May 2017 and February while it was building Mariner East 2.

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline resulted in “an unpermitted discharge of drilling fluids to wetlands, wild trout streams and high-quality waters at a number of locations in Allegheny, Blair, Cambria, Cumberland, Dauphin, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lancaster and Washington counties” DEP said.

In each instance, Sunoco was required to stop operations, fix the damage and submit proposed modifications of its construction methods for DEP approval. DEP allowed Sunoco to resume operations after approving the proposed modifications.

The terms of the appeal settlement will “lead to increased transparency, better access to permit application materials, additional opportunities for public participation, and improved communication with impacted residents along project routes,” the Clean Air Council said in a news release.

But the settlement provides only a partial resolution of issues the Clean Air Council has with the Mariner East 2 pipeline, and the group intends to “strongly resist” the project, according to Executive Director Joseph Otis Minott.

“The devastation that Sunoco caused is indefensible and should never have occurred,” said Melissa Marshall, community advocate for the Mountain Watershed Association. “This settlement is a critical first step towards preventing tragedies such as those we’ve seen with Mariner East 2 from ever happening to anyone again.”

Sunoco Pipeline spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said Monday the settlement agreement has no impact on the Mariner East 2 project, which is nearing completion.

Sunoco has maintained that the project permits “were properly and lawfully issued” and “fully protective of the environment,” Dillinger said. “This has been continuously supported by nationally-recognized experts.”

She cited the appellants’ “inability to identify a single expert on any of the issues they raised.”

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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