FBI Investigates Permitting of PA Pipeline
Earlier this month, the FBI reportedly launched an investigation into how permits were issued by Pennsylvania government for the Mariner East pipeline, a project that carries natural gas across the state.
According to the Associated Press, FBI agents have interviewed both current and former state employees about the project.
Mariner East Pipeline
In January 2018, state officials stopped construction of Sunoco Pipeline’s Mariner East 2 pipeline after a series of incidents in which drilling fluids were released into the environment over the course of seven months.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued the order suspending construction after issuing 32 notices of violation to Sunoco between May 9 and Dec. 22 of 2017. Violations largely related to “inadvertent returns” of fluids from horizontal directional drilling, considered to be industrial waste. 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, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission 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. In September, a new sinkhole was found along the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County, the second sinkhole in the Middletown area since April.
Those who spoke out about the FBI investigation did so under the condition of anonymity, as they could not speak openly about what was going on, according to reports. Questioning focused around the permits and whether Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration forced environmental protection officials to issue or approvals. There were also questions raised over if the Wolf administration received anything in return.
Though the Wolf administration declined to provide comment to the Washington Post, the administration previously said that it had not forced the DEP to issue permits. A spokesperson for Energy Transfer had also said the company had not been contacted by the FBI. U.S. Attorney David Freed, the Chief Federal Prosecutor in Harrisburg, also did not provide comment.
Under claims that he had pressured the DEP to issue permits, Wolf responded that he had instead insisted that the department adhere to the timeline for consideration. Department employees, however, later claimed that the schedule for consideration had sped up, though no one was forced to issue approvals.