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Pennsylvania is allowing some Mariner East pipeline construction to continue despite the coronavirus shutdown

Sunoco Pipeline appealed directly to Gov. Tom Wolf, arguing it needed to complete some work “to ensure the continued safety, integrity, and stabilization of these construction sites.”

Workers install a segment of the Mariner East pipeline in Chester County in November prior to it being pulled underground.
Workers install a segment of the Mariner East pipeline in Chester County in November prior to it being pulled underground.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

A Texas company will be permitted to complete pipeline construction work at 17 locations across Pennsylvania, most of them associated with its contentious Mariner East project, after appealing directly to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office for waivers from the emergency coronavirus shutdown.

Energy Transfer LP announced Wednesday night that the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development had approved the requests, which it said it made “to ensure the continued safety, integrity, and stabilization of these construction sites.”

The approvals include “a mix of partially completed horizontal directional drills (HDDs), road bores and open excavation sites across the commonwealth.” Several of the sites are in Chester and Delaware Counties, where the company’s Sunoco Pipeline subsidiary is working on a trio of Mariner East pipelines that carry natural gas liquids such as propane to a terminal in Marcus Hook.

Following the coronavirus emergency, Sunoco Pipeline was initially permitted to work on the pipeline, then forced to halt almost all activity on the project last week after Wolf’ did not designate pipeline construction as a “life-sustaining” business permitted under his emergency order. The state agreed to allow the pipeline to stabilize the construction sites, and also to continue maintenance work on the operating pipeline, the Mariner East 1.

All work must be conducted in compliance with social distancing and other mitigation measures recommended by health officials.

The state granted the exemptions Wednesday after Energy Transfer appealed directly to Wolf’s office last week for the waivers, according to communications that pipeline opponents obtained from state officials. In the letters, Joseph McGinn, ET vice president of public affairs, said cessation of construction activities at several specific locations “presents a serious concern for safety and security" or may result in “potential adverse impacts to human health or the environment.”

Pipeline opponents, including State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester), had pressed the state to halt all Mariner East work. They expressed outrage Wednesday that the company would appeal directly to the governor’s office. The multi-billion-dollar Mariner East project, much delayed by mishaps and regulatory violations, is one of the state’s biggest construction projects.

Dinniman on Thursday expressed disappointment that the state granted the waivers, but said it was nothing new when it comes to Mariner East. “While families and small businesses are asked to sacrifice, it’s just business as usual for large companies that, potentially due to political influence, get waivers to move ahead in the face of an emergency situation," Dinniman said in a statement..

He said the Wolf administration’s on-again-off-again posture toward Mariner East construction was not helpful.

» READ MORE: Gov. Tom Wolf revises mandatory shutdown list as businesses mount challenges

One area where construction will be allowed to resume is along Pottstown Pike in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, where the company said it has completed 161 feet of the 850-foot bore beneath the roadway.

In its waiver application, the company said halting work would require “the removal of equipment midway through the boring process, leaving an open bore hole underneath Pottstown Pike, creating the possibility of a road closure and/or collapse. In addition, the excavated pits to either side of the Pottstown Pike would remain open, creating a public safety hazard.”

Sunoco Pipeline said it would need until April 27 to complete the Pottstown Pike segment.

The company also received permission to:

  1. Maintain groundwater flows that are surfacing from partially completed horizontal drilling projects at Milford Road/Little Conestoga Road in Chester County, and at Bow Tree/Matlack Strasburg Road, also in Chester County. The company said maintenance work is needed to prevent flooding.

  2. Complete drilling and pipeline pullback at Arch Bishop/South Chester Road in Chester County, where horizontal drilling of a 6,366-foot section is about half-finished.

  3. Complete geophysical bores at Valley Road in Delaware County to confirm whether a subsurface void may exist and to develop a grouting plan, as necessary.

Most of the waivers pertain to work on the 350-mile-long Mariner East project, which links Marcellus Shale gas fields in Western Pennsylvania to the Delaware River export terminal.

Energy Transfer is also allowed to continue erosion and stabilization work in Beaver County on its Revolution Pipeline, which it agreed to complete under a January consent order. Under the consent order, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined Energy Transfer a record $30.6 million related to the 2018 explosion.