Sunoco Agrees to More Rigid Pipeline Drilling Rules

The company reached a draft settlement with environmental groups that have agreed to withdraw their court challenge against the controversial Mariner East II project.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

It looks like environmental groups won’t immediately take Sunoco to court over its controversial pipeline after all. On Tuesday, the company reached a draft settlement with opponents that calls for greater drilling safeguards and accountability measures. In exchange, the three environmental groups—the Clean Air Council, the Mountain Watershed Association, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network—agreed to withdraw their court challenge. The hearing scheduled to begin Wednesday has been canceled.

If a judge signs off on the settlement terms, Sunoco will face heightened supervision on the 350-mile Mariner East II pipeline and take new steps to protect private water wells. A long list of new measures is included in the settlement, all of which will create more transparency for environmental groups and residents living near construction sites.

One big measure requires the company to re-evaluate its horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technique with special attention to the geography of each drilling site. 

The company will have to commission professional geologists to produce reports that detail the impact of drilling at various locations. “The report shall specify all actions to be taken by Sunoco to eliminate, reduce, or control the release [or inadvertent return] of HDD drilling fluids to the surface of the ground or impact to water supplies at that location during HDD operations,” the settlement agreement states. The report must be submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection and other involved parties like nearby landowners. The reports will also be posted online.

The agreement also includes new rules on notice. Sunoco will have to give landowners within 450 feet of drilling the opportunity to have their water supplies sampled before, during, and after start or re-start of construction. Sunoco will also have to “immediately notify a landowner” when it has discovered that there is “substantial possibility that the operation of the HDD will impact his or her water supply,” the negotiated agreement states.

The settlement comes after a judge temporarily banned horizontal directional drilling at Sunoco’s 55 drilling sites. The ban was partially lifted last week at 16 of those sites; Sunoco argued that the pause would cause more environmental harm than good. Though hearings on the matter have been canceled, the ban on the remaining sites will stay in place until the Environmental Hearing Board reviews the settlement.

The $2.5 million project, which kicked off in February, will carry natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale region to a terminal in Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. According to State Impact Pa., construction has resulted in 90 spills at 42 different locations across southern Pennsylvania.

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