(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced 48 charges against the developer of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on Tuesday, saying the firm knowingly contaminated water with drilling fluid leaked during construction.
The charges, revealed in a 64-page grand jury report, found that the Texas-based Energy Transfer LP, the “corporate successor” to Sunoco, also knew some of its subcontractors used unauthorized additives during the drilling process, further contaminating the water wells of nearby homes.
Rosemary Fuller, a resident in Delaware County, said water tainted with E. coli and fecal coliform hospitalized her daughter, while sediment destroyed several appliances – despite assurances to the contrary from Energy Transfer.
“There is a duty to protect our air and water, and when companies harm these vital resources through negligence – it is a crime,” Shapiro said during a news conference Tuesday in front of Chester County’s Marsh Creek Lake. “By charging them, we can both seek to hold them criminally accountable and send a clear message to others about how seriously we take protecting the environment and public health.”
Shapiro said more than 80,000 gallons of drilling fluid was unintentionally released into the lake during construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline between 2017 and 2020 – 10 times the original estimates.
Worst of all, Shapiro alleged, Energy Transfer rarely reported the discharges to the Department of Environmental Protection, unless and until evidence of the leaks appeared above ground.
In total, the leaks occurred at 22 sites across 11 counties, leaving hundreds of residents using contaminated water for drinking, bathing, and laundering. Many affected homeowners testified during the grand jury’s 18 month investigation.
The leaks occurred at 22 sites across 11 counties, leaving hundreds of residents using contaminated water for drinking, bathing, and laundering.
“What they said was consistent,” Shapiro said. “Energy Transfer started drilling, the fluid started leaking, their drinking water was impacted, DEP wasn’t notified, and nobody was held criminally accountable. These charges are changing that, starting today.”
The penalties for the charges, if convicted, include fines and restitution. Shapiro said it’s up to the DEP to revoke permits or halt further construction of the project.
Jamar Thrasher, a DEP spokesperson, told The Center Square on Tuesday companies caught violating the responsibilities necessary for maintaining a DEP permit should be held accountable.
“DEP has been consistent in enforcing the permit conditions and regulations and has held Sunoco LP accountable, collecting more than $20 million in civil penalties,” he said. “The administration appreciates the diligence of the Office of Attorney General through the course of the investigation and will review the charges and determine if any additional actions are appropriate at this time.”
He also noted that Gov. Tom Wolf has advocated for legislative intervention to toughen penalties for permit violations.
The Center Square also reached out to Energy Transfer for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
The Mariner East 2 pipeline was designed to carry 345,000 gallons of natural gas more than 300 miles across Pennsylvania from eastern Ohio to the Marcus Hook refinery in Delaware County. The $5 billion project cuts through 17 counties and more than 1,200 waterways and wetlands and has been under construction since early 2017.
Since that time, the DEP has written more than 120 violations against Sunoco, the original developer, for water pollution and other failures of its construction practices. District attorneys in Delaware and Chester counties ultimately launched criminal investigations into the project that were later bolstered by separate inquiries from Shapiro and the FBI.
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.