Following a day of confusion for residents living along the Mariner East pipeline in Delaware and Chester counties, pipeline builder Energy Transfer says construction of the line will shut down due to Gov. Tom Wolf’s order closing all non-essential operations in the state because of the coronavirus pandemic. Emergency repair work will continue.
In an emailed statement, Energy Transfer spokesperson Lisa Coleman said that while product will continue to flow through the lines, and that may require continued maintenance, the company is working to suspend construction on new sections of pipe.
“We are working to safely comply with the Governor’s order regarding the temporary suspension of our ongoing construction activities,” Coleman wrote. “This includes working in accordance with the exemption process outlined by the administration to give us the necessary time to safely suspend active construction over a reasonable period of time, as some activities have a longer shut down process.”
She said the company will work with regulators such as the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Utility Commission, “to ensure that our sites are maintained in accordance with our permits during this temporary halt,” and that the company will share updates with local stakeholders.
The Mariner East project includes three pipelines that carry natural gas liquids across the state to an export terminal in Delaware County — ME1, ME2 and ME2x. Construction on some parts of the line were suspended for safety and compliance issues after sink holes developed in Chester County, but the Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission had recently signed off on renewed construction. This latest statewide shutdown of all non-essential businesses suspends that activity for now. Energy Transfer has been sending product through ME1, as well as ME2 during construction using re-worked sections of an older pipeline.
Wolf said Friday that his order to close non-essential businesses is intended to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. Under the order, construction projects, including “utility sub-system” construction sites, as well as “other heavy and civil engineering construction,” needed to shut down by 8 p.m. Thursday night.
But residents near Mariner East 2 in southeastern Pennsylvania woke up Friday to continued construction activity.
Eric Friedman, who lives near a pipeline construction site in Delaware County, said workers continued to lay pipe up until 9:30 p.m. on Thursday night.
“It appears that Sunoco has really accelerated its operations and whatever guardrails that existed before with regard to work hours or noise or respect for property, seems to have vanished with the minimal oversight they were receiving from the DEP and the PUC,” Friedman said.
In a statement issued Thursday, the PUC said oversight would continue during the coronavirus shut-down.
A message from Greg Kauffman, director of legislative affairs for the Department of Environmental Protection, that began circulating on social media seemed to indicate the work had to stop, but that the company needed to do maintenance before that occurred.
“Residents may see some continued activity as Sunoco and other permittees work to shutdown construction activities and stabilize these sites,” Kauffman wrote to lawmakers. “This could include filling open trenches, securing drill sites, site stabilization to prevent soil erosion, and other activities to secure the sites. The Governor, DEP, and other appropriate agencies are working closely with Sunoco and other permittees to ensure that sites are being stabilized according to their permit requirements and with appropriate care and speed. Any ongoing activities should be done in accordance with social distancing measures to the extent possible.”
The statement won praise from suburban Philadelphia lawmakers who had unsuccessfully pleaded with the Public Utility Commission to use its authority to shut down the site.
The Steamfitters union local 420, which represents workers on the pipeline site, said on Thursday the workers wanted to continue with the job.
On Friday, Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, which represents labor and chambers of commerce, says the organization supports the shut-down.
“We recognized that these are uncertain times,” Knaus said in a statement. “This crisis is unprecedented, as are the responses to stop the spread of this virus. We are all in this together and remain focused on getting back to work, when permitted, to deliver these energy resources safely and responsibly, while doing all we can to put our economy back to work for every Pennsylvanian.”
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.