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Mariner East Pipelines Shut Down, Again

The Mariner East pipelines are designed to carry highly volatile liquid ethane. (Arulonline/Pixabay)
The Mariner East pipelines are designed to carry highly volatile liquid ethane. (Arulonline/Pixabay)
May 29, 2018

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Citing sinkholes, contaminated water wells and alleged poor managerial judgement, an administrative law judge has suspended operations and construction of the Mariner East pipelines.

In her ruling, Public Utility Commission Judge Elizabeth Barnes said Sunoco had put profit over best engineering practices. The emergency order suspended the flow of highly volatile liquid ethane through Mariner East 1, and construction on the Mariner East 2 pipelines.

Sam Rubin, eastern Pennsylvania organizer with the group Food and Water Watch, called the ruling welcome news.

"The serious and undeniable safety concerns that residents have been expressing for years now have finally been granted some modicum of acknowledgement by the State of Pennsylvania,” Rubin said.

Operation and construction of the pipelines has been halted before, but then allowed to resume. Sunoco has said it will ask the Public Utility Commission to overturn Judge Barnes' decision.

Rubin called the pipelines "a perfect storm of safety risks;” and said the Mariner East 2 pipelines, if completed, will carry highly explosive liquids along a route with some 40 schools nearby.

"The final piece is that Sunoco has the worst safety record of any pipeline company in the country,” he said. “So, we have the most dangerous operator transporting the most dangerous contents immediately adjacent to the schools. That's unacceptable."

Sunoco's lawyers contend that under Pennsylvania law, "past conduct or harm cannot form the basis for injunctive relief."

Rubin cautioned that the decision to stop construction is an emergency ruling that is only binding during proceedings before the state Public Utility Commission. And the commission has overruled decisions by this judge in the past.

"I would be hesitant to oversell this,” he said. ”But this is, of course, a very big step forward, and our work right now is to make sure this temporary halt becomes a full and final and permanent halt."

Food and Water Watch is planning a rally on June 9 at the Chester County Courthouse, calling for a permanent halt to the Mariner East 2 pipelines.

Andrea Sears/Cynthia Howard, Public News Service - PA