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New Sinkhole Found Near PA Pipeline

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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A new sinkhole was recently found along the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, late last week, according to reports. This marks the second sinkhole in the Middletown area since April.

According to Philly Voice, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission confirmed the sinkhole and announced that a safety investigation was launched. The hole measured five feet by eight feet.

Mariner Pipeline Projects

In January 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued the order suspending construction on the Mariner East 2 pipelne after issuing 32 notices of violation to Sunoco between May 9 and Dec. 22, 2017. Violations were largely related to “inadvertent returns” of fluids from horizontal directional drilling, considered to be industrial waste.

Mariner East 2 is set to move ethane, propane and other petroleum products from Ohio and West Virginia east to the Philadelphia region. The DEP’s order, however, halted all construction (other than basic site maintenance activities).

Mariner East 2 is being constructed of 350 miles of 16-inch pipe and 250 miles of 20-inch pipe, most rolled, milled and coated in the United States, according to Sunoco. The first Mariner East pipeline, 300 miles long, was completed in 2016 and conveys liquid propane and ethane from the Marcellus shale drilling region of Western Pennsylvania east to Sunoco’s Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, refinery.

Sunoco Pipeline is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois.

In May 2018, PUC Judge Elizabeth Barnes ordered the suspension of gas transportation through Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 pipeline, while also stopping any further construction on the Mariner East 2 pipelines, citing contaminated water wells, sinkholes and poor managerial decisions on the company’s part.

By late March, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the Delaware County district attorney’s office announced that both would be launching an investigation into Mariner East 2. In late April, the Mariner East 1 pipeline returned to service after a three-month shutdown, according to reports. The shutdown occurred after a sinkhole was found in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which exposed a section of the pipeline.

Sinkhole Issues

In April, a 12-foot-by-12-foot sinkhole was found in Delaware County, though neither pipeline was exposed at the time. No injuries or pipeline leaks were reported at the recent sinkhole formation, though the persistence of these problems continues to prompt questions about safety for nearby residents.

According to Philly Voice, between May 2017 and November 2018, two of the company’s pipelines, running through Pennsylvania and Ohio and including Mariner East 2, drew over 800 state and federal violations.

Shortly after the sinkhole was found, Sunoco spokesperson Vicki Granado told NPR reporting site State Impact Pennsylvania that there was “no risk to the surrounding community as the length of the exposure was well within the maximum allowable span length for exposed pipe.” No other pipelines in the area were impacted.

On Tuesday (Sept. 17), Sunoco made progress on resuming construction of the Mariner East pipelines in Chester County, largely due to an appeals court blocking an attempt by Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Pennsylvania, to block construction. The Commonwealth Court said that the senator did not have the standing to bring an emergency that would have stopped construction.

An injunction that blocked pipeline construction was also ordered to be ended; the injunction had blocked construction in the West Whiteland Township since May 2018.

According to State Impact Pennsylvania, Sunoco has yet to complete the two pipelines, Mariner East 2 and 2X, due to a roster of problems that have persisted since the beginning of construction in February 2017. If new concerns about public health arise, however, the PUC could roll out a fresh injunction against the project.


Tagged categories: Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipelines; Program/Project Management

Comment from Chuck Nizzi, (9/18/2019, 11:13 AM)

I hope all those politicians, tree huggers, bureaucrats and judges that are causing the work stoppages ride bicycles or walk miles to work, uphill both ways, in the ankle deep mud.... Let the engineers and geologists solve the issues as they have done in the past in the USA. Sunoco does not want future problems with the new pipelines and will work to comply. Stopping the work is not working to comply and not moving forward. Take a look at the Alaskan pipeline and see what can be done, expect that high degree of engineering expertise and monitor the work helping the contractors to comply with work and EPA rules, NOT HINDERING THEM BY STOPPING THEIR WORK TO MAKE AMERICA GREATER STILL.

Comment from Larry Zacharias, (9/18/2019, 4:53 PM)

Hmm, These types of problems are usually due to insufficient geological survey, engineering, or shoddy construction. You make America great again by doing the first two right the first time, and hiring and supervising the right contractor (which in not necessarily the lowest bid.) Given the company’s history, they are failing at these things. Proceeding without getting these items right will lead to a potentially dangerous situation that will require expensive repairs. Which is Not Great – it’s a third world practice.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (9/20/2019, 11:45 AM)

Yes, a proper geological / geotechnical survey and engineering design need to be done before building a pipeline....however, many near-surface sinkholes are often the result of leaking pipes for water / sewer lines or drainage issues. Wok issues that cause releases of drilling mud are one thing but sinkholes are usually something unrelated (either that, or they lost a heck of a lot of mud and should have known far in advance that there was a problem). I cannot comment about the regulatory shut-down (different rules there), but with the sink-hole, I'd hope that Sunoco would have shut work on that section of the pipeline down and done more investigation even without the regulator stepping in.

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