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Pa. DEP scrutinizes Sunoco Mariner Pipeline 2 project for more unapproved drilling

The state DEP could shut down construction of Sunoco's Mariner Pipeline 2, according to an environmental group. Sunoco said its drilling had less impact on the environment than what was originally proposed.

Sunoco's Mariner East pipeline is installed below North Chester Road (Route 352) at the intersection of East Boot Road in East Goshen Township, Chester County, on Nov. 8, 2017.
Sunoco's Mariner East pipeline is installed below North Chester Road (Route 352) at the intersection of East Boot Road in East Goshen Township, Chester County, on Nov. 8, 2017.Read moreClem Murray

The state Department of Environmental Protection again chastised Sunoco's Mariner Pipeline 2 project after the company allegedly was caught drilling illegally through a section near Harrisburg and contaminated residential water supplies for two homes.

The pipeline project, which runs the breadth of Pennsylvania to Sunoco's refinery in Marcus Hook, has been bedeviled by nearly 100 leaks and other problems.

On Dec. 22, inspectors with the Cumberland County Conservation District found Sunoco workers had disregarded an agreement to dig an open cut to install the pipeline and instead used a device called a horizontal direction drill.

"It's the second time they've done the secretive drilling where they weren't approved," said Alex Bomstein, senior litigation attorney for the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council. The drilling was in violation of a settlement between Sunoco and several environmental groups requiring the company to take extra steps to prevent contamination.

Bomstein said Friday that the DEP could "shut down the entire project" due to Sunoco's "repeated and deliberate illegal conduct."

DEP spokesman Neil Shader said he could not comment on "any possible enforcement action," which could include monetary penalties.

"It's being worked out," Shader said. "It's not an instant thing."

Last week, the DEP demanded that Sunoco turn over pages of construction logs, plans, and receipts after a horizontal directional drill was discovered to be in use in Silver Spring Township, about 10 miles west of Harrisburg. "The department did not authorize the use of any HDD methodology in this area," DEP officials wrote. "The approved method of pipeline installation in this area was open trench."

Sunoco spokesman Jeffrey Shields said the company had made every effort "to respect and follow the stringent conditions of our environmental permits."

"In instances where a different construction method was used other than what was outlined in the permit, the method chosen had a lesser environmental impact," Shields said. "We are working with the DEP to address any construction issues and to ensure that any changes to permitted activities are approved in advance."

Shields took issue with the Clean Air Council's allegation that Sunoco had done "secretive" work.

"Nothing we do in building this important infrastructure project is 'secret.' All our construction is subject to extensive and unprecedented agency oversight and reporting requirements, which are published by the DEP, making Mariner East 2 not only the largest construction project to date in Pennsylvania, but also the most transparent," Shields said.

Bomstein said the pipeline construction has sullied dozens of residential water wells with mostly bacterial contamination "that renders the water undrinkable." Drilling fluid has also seeped into wells. "Sunoco says it's nontoxic, but it won't identify what all the chemicals are," Bomstein said.

In mid-November, the DEP criticized Sunoco for failing to notify regulators of a leak that caused a six-foot diameter sinkhole in the backyard of a Chester County home. The leak occurred in West Whiteland Township, where Sunoco muddied the wells of several homeowners in July, forcing the company to agree to more stringent oversight.