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Spill sites for Sunoco pipeline in Westmoreland County under evaluation

Stephen Huba
| Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, 3:51 p.m.
A relief well was created by pipeline contractors to stop the release of bentonite slurry at the recreational area at Loyalhanna Lake and is seen on Friday, July 21, 2017.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A relief well was created by pipeline contractors to stop the release of bentonite slurry at the recreational area at Loyalhanna Lake and is seen on Friday, July 21, 2017.

Five problematic drilling sites for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Westmoreland County are being re-evaluated by Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, the company building the 350-mile pipeline across the state.

Only two of the five sites, however, have made any progress with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and its court-ordered review process, according to a DEP spreadsheet.

In August, the state Environmental Hearing Board ordered Sunoco to re-evaluate 63 sites, including five in Westmoreland County, where horizontal directional drilling had led to spills of a drilling lubricant.

Sunoco described the spills as “inadvertent returns” of bentonite, a nontoxic mix of clay and water that is used as a drill-bit lubricant during horizontal directional drilling.

Horizontal drilling is used to lay pipe under roads, waterways, wetlands, wildlife habitats and other areas. Fluid returns occur when drilling mud seeps to the surface through underground fissures. Such spills can get into local well water and can result in a loss of water pressure and water clouding.

As part of a settlement with three environmental groups, the Environmental Hearing Board ordered Sunoco to re-examine the geology of the spill sites to determine whether horizontal drilling can continue or whether other construction methods should be used.

In Westmoreland County, the two sites currently under re-evaluation are:

• The Norfolk Southern railroad crossing in Penn Borough, Jeannette and Hempfield; and

• The Hildenbrand Road crossing in Sewickley Township.

The other three Westmoreland sites included in the re-evaluation order are:

• Gombach Road;

• Loyalhanna Lake National Recreation Area; and

• Livermore Road.

The DEP documented 20 cases of inadvertent returns in Westmoreland County between May 4 and Sept. 22, 2017.

Construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline began in February 2017 and is now scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2018.

Sunoco is installing two lines — 16 and 20 inches in diameter — that will carry pressurized propane, ethane and butane from the Marcellus Shale across the state. The destination for the natural gas liquids is the Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook near Philadelphia.

In Westmoreland County, the pipeline traverses Sewickley, Hempfield, Penn, Salem, Loyalhanna and Derry townships.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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