MEDIA >> Delaware County Council failed to move forward on a pipeline risk assessment Wednesday after being unable to agree on whether the firm that applied to do the job did so appropriately.
On Jan. 23, council initiated the idea of a pipeline study after members of the public asked them to conduct one. In March, a request for proposal was sent out and responses from vendors were received in April.
What was initially approved was an analysis for “awareness, emergency preparedness and response to address the concerns and educate the general public along the pipeline routes in Delaware County with particular emphasis on the Mariner East 2 pipeline currently under construction.”
On Wednesday, county councilmen Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek, both Democrats, voted to approve Quest Consultants to conduct such a study. The move was opposed by two of their colleagues, Republicans Colleen Morrone and Michael Culp.
Council Chairman John McBlain, also a Republican, abstained from the vote to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest. Although he has not done work for Sunoco, members of his law firm, Swartz Campbell, has.
“I’m obviously disappointed in the outcome here,” Madden said. “I do hope that we can spend the next few weeks working toward addressing the concerns that were put forth (Wednesday) and moving expeditiously toward what I think is an incredibly important piece of work that we kicked off a few months back.”
Council members who opposed the study voiced concerns about the change in the project scope as well as any potential conflict of interest.
Oklahoma-based Quest Consultants performed a hazards study for the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety on the Mariner East pipeline in March.
In projects called Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X, Sunoco is constructing a pair of pipelines across Pennsylvania to move 700,000 barrels of propane, ethane and butane daily from the Marcellus and Utica Shales. About 11.4 miles of the 350-mile lines will be built in Delaware County, with the endpoint being the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex, where the liquids will be stored, processed and then distributed locally, regionally and internationally.
“My concern ... is that this proposal that is now in front of us has significantly changed from the scope of the RFP that we approved for release,” Morrone said.
What began as a look at all pipeline routes in Delaware County was being whittled down to Mariner East.
“I feel my responsibility is to represent all of the residents in Delaware County,” she said. “It’s about doing the right thing for all of the residents in Delaware County.”
Madden said the timing of Mariner East makes that more imminent.
“As every day goes by, that pipeline gets further and further toward completion and being in operation,” he said. “Every day that goes by, there is a diminishing return on the value that we’re going to get from taxpayer money that is spent on this.”
Madden added that adding other lines could be done later.
“We can extend this, we can do another contract in the future that looks at all these other pipelines,” he said.
The main question for him, Madden said, was, “Is that something that is worth going forward?”
In addition, Morrone said Quest did not provide its professional qualifications until a fourth conversation.
And, she said, “I continue to have concerns for potential conflicts of interest and the independent nature of Quest performing this since they’ve been hired at one point through a Middletown Coalition group as well as had been hired by the township of Middletown, which backed out of the proposal.”
She said the township backed out after its credibility was questioned due to what she called a “grossly inaccurate” location of a pump station in its risk analysis.
Culp said the whole idea of getting the request for proposal was to get a separate set of eyes.
“That’s not what you’re getting here,” he said, as he also critiqued the price tag on the study done for the coalition group. “I don’t think $4,000 is money to scoff at. I think that’s a lot of money.”
To that, Zidek said, “I feel like I’m living in Trump world a little bit here and the facts have been distorted and/or taken out of context considerably.”
He said he too felt a sense of urgency after a school in Thornbury wrote him and other elected officials a letter “imploring them, someone, anyone, please conduct a quantitative risk analysis.”
Zidek continued, “We sit up here all the time talking about how appreciative we are of our firefighters, our first responders and our policemen and we sit here today with an opportunity to do a study that will help them be safe ... and we’re not taking action. I’m asking county council today, do the right thing.”