After nearly seven months of debate, the Delaware County Council has initiated a countywide risk-assessment of Sunoco Logistics' embattled Mariner East 2 pipeline.
At the council meeting Wednesday, four members voted to approve a contract for G2 Integrated Solutions LLC to perform the study for $115,000. Council President John McBlain abstained due to concerns raised by some of his colleagues about business his law firm, Swartz Campbell, has done with Sunoco.
The study will also examine Adelphia Gateway's plan to convert a decommissioned oil pipeline to carry natural gas through the county. G2 is expected to complete its work in 14 weeks.
The Houston firm will use publicly available data from the pipeline operators to determine "the most likely release of material and the most likely cause," according to Tim Boyce, director of the county's Office of Emergency Management.
"This process we realized today, I know it took longer than some members of the community would have liked, but we're in a new era of bipartisanship in the county," said Kevin Madden, one of two Democrats on the council, who has pushed for the risk assessment since taking office in January. "And for this council to be able to work through the emotions that surfaced from time to time and let cooler heads prevail is commendable."
Madden's statement referenced the gridlock the issue caused among the board. Initially, some of his colleagues doubted the necessity of the study, delaying a vote for several weeks. In March, a request for proposals was finally issued, but it faced additional hurdles.
Some members felt Quest Consultants, the only company that responded with a bid, was biased, given a similar study it had completed for the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety. Other concerns were raised about the scope of the proposed risk assessment, which initially was set to study every pipeline in the county.
In the meantime, public outcry for a better understanding of the risks presented by Mariner East 2 continued to mount. The pipeline, part of Sunoco Logistic's $5.1 billion effort to transport natural gas liquids to the Marcus Hook refinery, has been plagued by reports of leaks, sinkholes, and other setbacks. Despite this, the company says the pipeline is near completion and is in compliance with all federal and state safety regulations.
"This was a great way for us to come together for the needs of the our county," said Councilwoman Colleen Morrone, a Republican who initially supported the idea of a risk assessment, but expressed some doubts about Quest. "I see it as an opportunity for us to work together for the best interests of our residents. Politics don't get into it at all. It's about doing the right thing."
Last month, the council agreed to the terms of a new proposal, which solicited 12 bids, according to Boyce. Some of the responding companies were suggested by the public, others by members of council, Boyce said. A few came from Boyce and colleagues "cold calling" certain firms, one of which was G2.
Boyce said the company was the only one of the bidders that hadn't "formed their own ideas" about the pipeline risks, and understood the demand from county residents for more information on the pipelines running, sometimes literally, through their backyards.
G2's efforts will run parallel to an independent risk assessment recently commissioned by DelChesco United for Pipeline Safety, a coalition of community groups in Delaware and Chester Counties. Last week, the group formally reached its funding goal for the two-county study being handled by Quest.
Eric Friedman, a spokesperson for DelChesco United, said Wednesday that he appreciated the council's efforts to finalize its study.
"We're glad they decided to move ahead," Friedman said. "Nobody's going to guarantee that this company won't have further leaks. And these materials are dangerous, especially to an area as densely populated as Delaware County."