Sunoco, Activists Offer Competing Rewards for Info on Pipeline Vandal

The company was quick to blame alleged damage on environmental activists — who say Sunoco could have wrecked its own equipment to make them look bad.

pipeline, sunoco

Pipeline construction workers stand along the Mariner East pipeline route near Lisa Drive in Exton.

Last week, Sunoco said it will offer a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever allegedly vandalized construction equipment being used for the company’s contentious Mariner East pipelines in early April.

On Tuesday, the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety said it will offer a reward in the same amount — but for evidence that Sunoco (or an affiliate) damaged its own equipment and attempted to link the vandalism to pipeline opponents.

For the record, neither the coalition nor the company has any specific evidence to back up either claim.

For background: Sunoco has said that two pieces of equipment were “significantly” damaged on April 2nd and 3rd in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, the same township where several massive sinkholes have opened along the Mariner East pipeline construction route in Exton. The company has not released photos of the alleged vandalism, and a spokesperson declined to provide further detail about where the incident occurred.

West Whiteland Police chief Joseph Catov told StateImpact on Friday that a bulldozer and a backhoe had been damaged in the alleged incident. A police investigation remains active. Catov told the news organization that there was “no indication as to who did it or why it was done.”

The aftermath of a drilling spill that occurred November along Lisa Drive | Via TJ Allen

Community pushback to pipeline construction has been significant, especially after Sunoco damaged more than a dozen private water wells in Chester County last year. More recently, the sinkholes that have opened in Exton prompted the Public Utility Commission to shut down the Mariner East I pipeline in March, after a hole exposed the bare pipeline and posed a potentially “catastrophic risk to public safety,” the commission said.

A spokesperson for Sunoco told StateImpact that the company understands “that there are varying opinions about critical infrastructure projects like the Mariner East 2 pipeline, and we respect the rights of all to peacefully protest. However, the destruction of equipment is not peaceful.” In response to accusations from the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, the company said that “it is silly to think we would damage our own equipment, and it is unequivocally not true.”

The coalition, meanwhile, maintains that Sunoco “has a long history of damaging private property.”

“Sunoco has recently made a claim that some of its equipment was damaged, and they tried to place the blame on hard-working residents that have in fact been victims of damage done by Sunoco,” said Eric Friedman, a spokesperson for the coalition. “They’ve presented no evidence as to who [allegedly vandalized the equipment], but they’ve painted environmentalists as far-left people. If this is a false-flag operation run by Sunoco, we’d like to get to the bottom of it.”

Friedman added that the Middletown Coalition condemns all acts of property damage, “including all the property damage done by Sunoco.”

Earlier this month, Sunoco offered to temporarily relocate residents along Lisa Drive in Exton, where the sinkholes have opened. That includes T.J. Allen, who spoke with Philadelphia magazine at length last month, as well as neighbors Mary MarchRussell March and Jared Savitski, who filed a class-action lawsuit against Sunoco on March 16th in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, alleging that the company has caused physical damage to their properties, lowered the value of their properties, and robbed them of their right to use and enjoy their land.

Since construction on the Mariner East pipelines project began, the Department of Environmental Protection has issued the company 46 notices of environmental violations at sites across the state, as well as a $12.6 million fine in February (one of the largest civil penalties collected in a single settlement).