letter, Daily Local News, 2/4/19 (in print 2/14/19)
On Sunday January 20th, 2019, yet another sinkhole opened up in a residential backyard in West Whiteland Township, exposing Mariner East 1. Mariner East 1 is an 80 year old pipeline that was repurposed and its flow reversed (against PHMSA recommendations) in 2014 to carry dangerous Natural Gas Liquids across Pennsylvania to be shipped overseas to make plastic. This is the 4th sinkhole on this street in 14 months, all caused by the Mariner East project. Directly impacted residents notified Sunoco, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and called 911.
It has become clear that the PUC is not an unbiased regulator when it comes to the oil and gas industry. Senator Dinniman even recently stated “It’s like the Public Utility Commission is all ‘utility’ and no ‘public’.”
The PUC is using the ARM Group, which is a full-service science and engineering consulting firm, “to monitor geological testing of the site and analyze the results for the PUC investigators”. The ARM Group is the same firm that was utilized last spring after previous sinkholes and ground subsidence concerns. According to that 2018 report, the ARM Group concluded that “the corrective actions taken and planned to be taken by Sunoco Pipeline L.P. (grouting and post-grouting monitoring program) as described herein will be sufficient to mitigate the risk to the integrity of the ME1 Pipeline”. To summarize, less than 9 months after the ARM Group determined this location to be stable, another sinkhole appeared, and the PUC has contracted them to do the same work again.
The ARM Group is listed as Associate Members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition according their online 6th edition Membership Directory. The Marcellus Shale Coalition is a PR and Lobbying firm who spent $13.9 million on oil and gas lobbying since third quarter 2012. An Associate Membership costs $15,000 in dues. The Arm Group VP of Natural Resources Michelle Cohen is listed on their website as an “active member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.”
In addition, we also know that four out of five Governor Wolf appointed PUC commissioners have strong ties to the oil & gas industry. This includes a previous fracking lobbyist, a previous executive for a fracking corporation, and attorneys for firms that represent oil and gas clients, including both Sunoco and the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
We also know that on Sun Jan 20th, our first responders were on site. This emergency situation was basically a trial run for our area, and unfortunately we failed. Because the pipeline was not actively leaking, first responders took that to mean there was no emergency or threat to public safety. They relied on Sunoco and the PUC for this information. Residents on those 2 streets in that small community weren’t even notified until the next day. They slept that night with an unsupported, exposed 80 year old pipeline full of Natural Gas Liquids nearby, and no one bothered to tell them.
A few months ago, there was an active shooter unaccounted for in Chester County, and within minutes, text message alerts and reverse 911 calls went out to the appropriate residents. Ground subsidence (including sinkholes) is a leading cause of pipeline failures, and yet our Emergency Services didn’t think it was necessary that area residents needed to be informed because Sunoco told them it was safe.
With all of this information, how can Pennsylvanians trust that the public is being protected? Sunoco has proven themselves to be an egregious operator with the worst safety record in the industry. The PUC has proven to be tied to the fossil fuel industry. We, both the public and our first responders, cannot continue to rely on Sunoco or the PUC for information. The next time we have a sinkhole involving Mariner East, we may not be so lucky.
Uwchlan Township Resident