Why Is The Mariner East Pipeline So Controversial?

Sep 13, 2018

This week, a pipeline exploded in Beaver County destroying one home and forcing two dozen people to evacuate. 

The Revolution Pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners, was active for only a week before it blew up. It was built to send gas to another nearly completed pipeline, the Mariner East, which will carry natural gas liquids from the Pittsburgh area to Philadelphia.

The Mariner East is being built by Sunoco Logistics. It’s had dozens of spills during construction, incurred millions of dollars in fines, and sparked protests from communities along its route. For StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Energy Explained podcast, Reid Frazier spoke with StateImpact reporters Susan Phillips and Jon Hurdle to help understand why this pipeline has been so controversial. Here’s some of that conversation:

Jon Hurdle: The drilling problems started pretty much as soon as they started constructing the pipeline in February of 2017. The main problem that the project has had is dozens and dozens of spills of what’s called drilling mud, which is a clay-based lubricant that the company uses. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) started to enforce these problems with drilling mud spills, and they started issuing notices of violation for these incidents, some of which spilled thousands of gallons of drilling mud into wetlands and waterways and private properties.

Reid Frazier: Drilling mud is non-toxic, so why would this be a problem for the environment?

Susan Phillips: Yeah, drilling mud is a bentonite clay. If it spills into a stream or a wetland, it sort of smothers a lot of the tiny aquatic life, those little bugs that fish feed on. And so it has an impact throughout the food chain of a stream or a wetland.

RF: What has the DEP done as a result of all these spills into the waters of the Commonwealth? I mean, their mandate is to protect these streams.

JH: One of the three shutdowns that Mariner East has experienced since it’s been under construction was in January 2018, and that lasted for about a month. And when it was lifted, the DEP fined Sonoco. So DEP said that it would take a very rigorous approach to Sonoco’s repeated violations and it has done so.

RF: This has been very controversial in suburban Philadelphia where it’s being built. Why has there been so much resistance to this pipeline there?

JH: What I would say is that there’s a lot of awareness that the pipeline is going through a very densely populated area–the western suburbs of Philly. And critics of this project say that it’s outrageous that a pipeline carrying these highly explosive natural gas liquids should have been routed through such a densely populated area in the first place. That’s really what’s motivated a lot of people.

SP: The fracking boom has come to the Philadelphia suburbs and they’re not happy about it.

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Susan Phillips and Jon Hurdle cover energy for StateImpact Pennsylvania

Interested in reading more about how new pipelines are impacting life here in Pennsylvania? Check out our Follow the Pipeline series.