MEDIA COURTHOUSE — Add the voice of Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland to the growing din seeking an investigation of the controversial Mariner East pipeline issue.
In a release issued Monday night, Copeland announced she was launching an investigation of the pipeline in conjunction with the state attorney general's office. Copeland said her office and the A.G.'s office are conducting a joint investigation regarding allegations of criminal misconduct by Energy Transfer LP - the Texas-based owner of the Mariner East project along with their local affiliate Sunoco Logistics Partners, and related corporate entities, involving pipeline construction and related activities for Mariner East 1, 2, and 2X pipelines.
“There is no question that the pipeline poses certain concerns and risks to our residents, and as district attorney, I am working to do everything possible within my power to ensure the safety of residents," Copeland said in a statement issued after 8:30 p.m. "At this time, we are thoroughly reviewing the evidence available to us, working with the attorney general’s Office, and seeking action within our jurisdictional boundaries. We want residents to know that we have heard their concerns, and we are willing to hear any new concerns that they may have about the pipeline by contacting my office.
“Due to the fact that the pipeline spans over 17 different counties in Pennsylvania, we sought assistance from our partners in law enforcement, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. As this remains an open and active investigation, the details available for disclosure are very limited, as is the case in any of investigation.”
Energy Transfer Partners maintains there is no reason for a criminal investigation of the pipeline.
"There is no legitimate basis for conducting a criminal investigation into our company and the Mariner East pipelines," said spokesperson Lisa Dillinger in a statement. "We have worked closely with Commonwealth officials and inspectors to respond to citizen concerns as evidenced by the information that is readily available on the PUC and DEP websites. We are confident that we have not acted to violate any criminal laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and are committed to aggressively defending ourselves.
"We look forward to opening a dialogue with the Attorney General’s and District Attorney’s Offices in the hope that we can bring this matter to an appropriate resolution. The safety of all those who live and work along our pipeline is our first priority, and this project was planned and implemented based on that fact."
The move comes after a day that saw a flurry of activity, most of it involving the growing concerns being raised about the pipeline.
Earlier in the day a group of elected officials from both Delaware and Chester Counties sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to halt all materials flowing on the Mariner East pipelines, alleging Energy Transfer has failed to properly notify local officials and first responders of an emergency plan in the event of an emergency.
Also a Democrat running for district attorney in Chester County called on the state attorney general to launch an investigation of the pipeline. That moves comes a week after it was learned that Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, who is seeking re-election, was impaneling an investigative grand jury to hear from witnesses and review documents related to the pipeline. Last December Hogan said he was launching a criminal investigation into the pipeline construction.
Energy Transfer Partners has consistently denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that the pipeline was being built and will be operated to the highest industry standards.
Dillinger disputed the officials' reasoning for seeking a halt to materials flowing through the pipelines.
"We have been working through this request with PHMSA to help the Chester County Department of Emergency Services obtain a copy of our Facility Response Plan - which any emergency management department can request from PHMSA," Dillinger said. "PHMSA is delegated the authority to release approved Pipeline Facility Response Plans. We follow the guidelines and regulations set by PHMSA on these matters. We anticipate that PHMSA will provide the plan to Chester County this week. Moreover, at the request of the Chester County Department of Emergency Services, we have supplied copies of our Standard Operating Procedures in responding to emergency situations. We have also met with over 40 schools that are in the vicinity of ME1 and ME2 to discuss emergency response planning, including those school districts in Chester County. We have also trained more than 2,342 emergency responders through our Mariner Emergency Responder Outreach (MERO) sessions including more than 260 responders from Chester County. We share Chester County’s focus on pipeline safety and look forward to their receipt of our plan from PHMSA."
Mariner East 2 is a 350-mile expansion of Sunoco’s current Mariner East pipeline system, designed to carry natural gas liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas fields.
Energy Transfer Partners is building and operating the controversial Mariner East project, transporting volatile liquid gases across the full width of Pennsylvania, from the Marcellus Shale region to a facility in Marcus Hook.
Residents have opposed the project for years, saying the pipeline never should have been routed through densely populated neighborhoods, in close proximity to schools and senior centers.
Mariner East 1, which is a decades old smaller pipe that has been retrofitted to carry the new materials, has been shut down for weeks since a sinkhole formed in a Chester County neighborhood for the second time.
Mariner East 2 came online the last week of December, albeit not in the form ETP originally proposed. Mariner East 2 was proposed as a 20-inch pipe, but because of constant delays and other problems, the company plugged in a hybrid version of several smaller pipes to fill in the gaps. Completion of the full Mariner East 2 pipeline now likely will not take place until 2020.
Mariner East 2x remains under construction.
The state Department of Environmental Protection halted all permits for the Mariner East 2 project in February, saying the company failed to take proper actions after an accident caused an explosion in western Pennsylvania.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan last month announced he was launching a criminal investigation into the construction of Mariner East 2, believing state officials had not adequately protected citizens rights and safety. He is currently impaneling an investigative grand jury to hear testimony from witnesses and review documents.
Delaware County Council also filed a motion last month to intervene as a full and active party in a lawsuit against the company filed by seven residents of Delaware and Chester counties.
Copeland noted the community groups that have sprung up in the wake of growing concerns about the pipeline construction and operation.
“I would like to thank the Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, and other residents for taking the time to meet with us and sharing their concerns and formal complaints,” Copeland said .
If you would like to submit a complaint regarding misconduct by the pipeline company, please contact the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office Criminal Investigation Division at 610-891-4700.