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State investigating new sinkholes along Mariner East pipeline

The state announced it was monitoring subsidence along the Sunoco pipeline route after cracks opened in a highway in Chester County.

A sinkhole that developed in 2018 in the rear yard on Lisa Drive in Exton, where Sunoco Pipeline was constructing the Mariner East 2 pipeline.
A sinkhole that developed in 2018 in the rear yard on Lisa Drive in Exton, where Sunoco Pipeline was constructing the Mariner East 2 pipeline.Read morePhoto courtesy of T.J. Allen

Pennsylvania pipeline inspectors announced Friday that they are investigating a new series of sinkholes that have opened up along Sunoco Pipeline LP’s Mariner East project route in Chester County after cracks were reported in the pavement of Business Route 30 in Exton, impacting some traffic.

Public Utility Commission safety inspectors are investigating subsidence that has occurred since July 10 in places where the controversial pipeline is under construction. The incidents happened not far from the West Whiteland Township location where sinkholes formed over the last two years, forcing several construction halts and service disruptions on the operating pipelines.

On Friday afternoon, the PUC said “growing cracks were reported in the pavement” of the 400 block of East Lincoln Highway in Exton, a two-lane roadway with a center turn lane.

The PUC said that the recent sinkholes have not exposed any active pipelines. The agency said Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer LP of Dallas, stabilized the locations with grout filling, and is performing ground-penetrating radar analysis three times per day on the roadway and nearby pedestrian path, along with geophysical testing along the pipeline right of way.

The sinkholes are the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the Mariner East project, which carries shale gas liquids such as propane and ethane across Pennsylvania to an Energy Transfer export terminal in Marcus Hook. The project includes three pipelines: an 8-inch diameter fuel pipeline, built 89 years ago, that was repurposed to carry gas liquids, and two new larger pipelines that roughly follow the same route.

Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, a local activist organization, on Wednesday called on county officials to press the PUC to shut down the project.

“Sunoco continues to try to rush this export project through without regard for the potential for a disaster in the heart of Exton,” Eric Friedman, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement. “These sinkholes are an invitation to a catastrophe.”