Mariner East parent firm agrees to settlement including testing, cleanup in 11 Pa. counties

This comes almost two years after chemical leak at Marsh Creek State Park, still not cleaned up
Warning sings mark the presence of a natural gas liquids pipeline
Warning sings mark the presence of a natural gas liquids pipeline in West Chester, Pennsylvania, March 13, 2019. Photo credit Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The parent company behind the Mariner East pipelines has agreed to a settlement stemming from a long list of criminal charges related to the pipelines’ construction.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro calls the settlement a major victory for the estimated 150 families affected by pipeline construction.

“Pleased for the people of Pennsylvania who have been impacted and felt unheard by regulators and the company, and who are finally going to get access to resources to know what is coming out of the faucet in their homes when they cook, when they drink [and] when they bathe their children. They’re finally going to have answers they can trust from an independent professional geologist.”

Kayak with sign that says "Pull the permits before the next disaster" at the shore of a lake.
A kayak featuring a protest sign on the shore of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park Photo credit Jim Melwert

Sunoco’s pipeline business merged into a company called Energy Transfer. That company pleaded no contest to a list of criminal charges, including failure to report environmental issues like leaks and spills, and using unapproved additives in drilling fluid.

Charges against Energy Transfer come from alleged violations at 22 sites in 11 Pennsylvania counties, including last year’s drilling fluid leak around Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County.

The no-contest plea means Energy Transfer is not admitting guilt, but the company is acknowledging that, if the case went to trial, there would be enough evidence to get a conviction.

Energy Transfer has entered into settlement with the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

It includes free review of residents’ water for anyone affected by construction. Shapiro’s office will hire independent geologists, with no tie to Energy Transfer, to test water.

“We fought hard to require this defendant to pay for these tests for residents in the area, because it really goes to the heart of this criminal case and gives power back to the people who were pushed aside by this big company,” Shapiro said.

“They won't have to simply take Energy Transfer’s word for it anymore. Now, we will have facts provided by an independent professional geologist.”

And under the terms of their permits, Energy Transfer would have to pay to fix any contaminated water supplies.

The company is also required to pay an additional $10 million to improve watersheds and streams most affected by the pipeline’s construction.

“Even if we had won every single count at trial,” Shairo said, “Energy Transfer would have walked away paying just pocket change for their crimes.” Shaprio says the settlement is six-times more than the maximum fines combined.

He’s calling on the state Legislature to toughen penalties for environmental crimes.

The settlement comes just shy of the two-year anniversary of the drilling fluid leak at Marsh Creek. Energy Transfer has missed the July 1 deadline to complete clean-up and remediation at the state park and could face fines of $10,000 per day.

A spokesperson for Energy Transfer responded to Attorney General Josh Shapiro with the following:

“We are disappointed in the Attorney General’s characterization today of the agreement that was filed in open court. As the Attorney General is aware, we pled ‘Nolo Contendere’ with no admission to any facts.

Additionally, contrary to the Attorney General’s characterization, and as acknowledged by the Court on the record, the $10 million fund which Energy Transfer agreed to establish is not a fine or a penalty of any kind but the product of a voluntary collaboration with the Commonwealth. The same is true for the well-water grievance procedure, which is a voluntary program agreed to by Energy Transfer. The fact remains that the total fines levied were limited to $57,500.

While we understand Mr. Shapiro is running for office, it remains disappointing that he would mischaracterize the facts of this voluntary agreement to his political advantage rather than acknowledge the good faith efforts of Energy Transfer to resolve this dispute.

Having said that, we are pleased to bring these matters to a close. It is always our priority to work in a manner that lawfully complies with all applicable rules and regulations. Our focus remains on the safe operation of our pipelines and related facilities that run throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This important infrastructure is critical to Pennsylvania’s economy and to ensuring our country’s energy independence.”