By: Andrea Sears
PHILADELPHIA – Environmental groups claim the agreement to restart the Mariner East 2 pipelines is illegal.
Pipeline construction permits were suspended in January for what the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection labeled “willful and egregious” violations. Five weeks later, Sunoco and the DEP reached a Consent Order and Agreement allowing construction to resume under what the DEP described as a “stringent compliance review.”
But Alex Bomstein, senior litigation attorney with the Clean Air Council, said that Consent Order weakened protocols already in place for preventing and responding to drilling-fluid spills. He said the protocols are part of a settlement agreement Sunoco and the DEP reached with environmental groups last August.
“That settlement agreement is a binding contract,” Bomstein said. “DEP didn’t give any notice to us that this had happened, and we discovered it on our own.”
The groups have filed a complaint in the Commonwealth Court and appealed to the state’s Environmental Hearing Board. Sunoco said it is in compliance with all agreements and permits, and that the lawsuit is without merit.
But Bomstein argued that stronger protocols are necessary to protect public health if drilling fluids used in pipeline construction are spilled.
“That can cause contamination of people’s water wells,” he said. “And indeed, dozens of people throughout the state have had their water wells contaminated.”
He added that drilling fluids also contaminate fish and wildlife habitat.
The groups are asking the court for a preliminary injunction to stop construction at sites where the protocols are not being applied. Bomstein said rolling them back was a breach of contract, and a breach of trust by environmental regulators.
“The environmental protections we secured are important, need to be in place,” he said. “And we need to be able to know that our regulators are looking out for us rather than looking out for industry.”
The Clean Air Council filed the lawsuits along with the Delaware Riverkeeper and the Mountain Watershed Association.