In wake of pipeline settlement, Dinniman says DEP fails to manage pipeline projects

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has fined a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners more than $30 million, but appears to have green-lit resumption of construction on various ETP pipeline projects including Mariner East II — leaving one local state legislator, state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19), expressing anger at the state’s inability to manage pipeline projects and protect the safety of Chester County residents.

DEP spokespeople announced Friday that it has issued a $30.6 million civil penalty to ETC Northeast Pipeline (ETC), a subsidiary of ETP, for violations related to the 2018 Revolution Pipeline explosion and fire. The penalty is one of the largest civil penalties collected in a single settlement, according to DEP.

“ETC’s lack of oversight during construction of the Revolution Pipeline and their failure to comply with DEP’s October 2018 compliance order demanded serious accountability. Their inaction led directly to this unprecedented civil penalty,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “DEP is committed to holding permittees accountable for permit compliance and will continue to provide active and stringent oversight over the construction of their projects. Permittees are obligated to ensure that their projects are constructed without incident and in full compliance with permits. If a permittee fails to do so, they will be held accountable.”

But Dinniman made it clear he is not buying it, saying DEP does not and cannot properly inspect and supervise pipelines currently under construction.

“No amount of money, no matter how large, addresses the fundamental and ongoing problem with pipeline construction and siting in Pennsylvania and that is the complete lack of oversight and accountability,” Dinniman said in a statement, Friday.

There’s no independent inspection of pipeline construction. There’s no regulation of pipeline placement or siting. And there is no agency that is either willing or able to work to ensure pipeline construction and safety standards. Neither the DEP nor the PUC appears to want to get involved until something goes drastically wrong.

In fact, currently, more approvals and permits are required to build a deck in your backyard then is needed for a pipeline company to run a hazardous natural gas liquids pipeline through your yard.”

This latest fine and permit ban stems from an event on Sept. 10, 2018, where a landslide occurred along the Revolution Pipeline in Center Township, Beaver County. When the landslide occurred, a section of the pipeline separated, allowing gas to escape from the pipeline. The gas ignited, causing a fire that burned several acres of forested areas; destroyed a single-family home, a barn, and numerous vehicles; resulted in the evacuation of nearby residents; and caused six high voltage electric transmission towers to collapse. No one was harmed in this incident.

DEP said a subsequent investigation determined that ETC had not stabilized a number of areas along the pipeline resulting in additional slides. ETC also failed to properly implement or maintain hundreds of best management practice controls to address stormwater runoff. The full investigation also found that during construction of the pipeline, ETC had illegally impacted numerous streams and wetlands along the length of the pipeline right of way.

Similar issues have been identified in construction of the Mariner East II pipeline, additionally ETP is facing charges it illegally hired state constables to keep local residents and media away from construction sites.

Additionally, there are investigations ongoing, sources say, alleging pay to play bribery schemes to tamp down opposition to the pipeline project potentially involving Democratic Party and elected officials in Chester County. Criminal investigations had been under way at the direction of former Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan — although the status of that investigation is unclear under newly sworn in DA Deb Ryan. Additional investigations into pipeline construction are underway from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. There are also indications that there is an ongoing federal grand jury looking at allegations of money moving between Philadelphia building trades union leaders and some former Chesco Democratic Party officials, in an effort to stop party rank-and-file opposition to the pipeline project.

In the Consent Order and Agreement (COA) between DEP and ETC, $28.6 million will go to the Oil and Gas Program Fund and Clean Water Fund. Revenue in these funds will buttress the department’s oversight of oil and gas development statewide, including pipeline projects, and will also provide financial assistance to water remediation projects across the state. An additional $2 million will go toward a DEP-approved community environmental project or projects that will benefit Pennsylvania’s environment and the waters of the commonwealth. 

Dinniman, though, says DEP admits it cannot properly supervise pipeline projects.

“Most recently, in response to an inquiry regarding pipeline construction in Exton that deviated from an approved permit, DEP’s staff outright admitted, ‘We don’t regulate the construction of the pipeline.’ ,” Dinniman said in a statement.

As a result, I call upon the governor in his upcoming budget address to strongly reaffirm his previously stated support for a series of bills that I and others have introduced to provide the type of protection, oversight, emergency management and notification, and supervision of pipeline construction and operation that is absolutely necessary to help ensure public safety.

And I call upon legislative leaders to immediately move these bills forward.”

DEP leaders say they will be monitoring ETP’s projects and hold them accountable.

“DEP will continue to carefully monitor ETC’s activities to ensure that ETC meets the terms of this agreement and all approved permits,” McDonnell said. “The conditions imposed by this agreement seek to ensure that ETC will get this right. Anything less is unacceptable.”

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment