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Pipeline company to resume drilling at spill-prone Snitz Creek site

Written by Daniel Walmer/The Lebanon Daily News | Feb 23, 2018 6:28 PM
Mariner_east_Snitz-Creek-spill-03.jpg

This view from N. Cornwall Rd. shows the progress of pipeline construction. A bridge spans Snitz Creek. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily News)

(Undated) -- Construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline is poised to begin again at the Snitz Creek crossing that previously saw at least three environmental incidents. 

Pipeline owner Sunoco was forced to halt construction statewide on Jan. 3 when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection pulled its permits because of alleged "willful and egregious" failures to meet permit conditions, inadvertent returns of "drilling mud" to creeks and impacts to water wells. The DEP leveled a $12.6 million penalty on Feb. 8 but allowed construction to resume.

Sunoco was required to notify residents within 450 feet of a drilling area before resuming drilling operations - which it did in West Cornwall Township on Feb. 8 for the pipeline's Snitz Creek crossing near Zinns Mill road.  There were at least three documented spills of "drilling mud" - a non-toxic mixture of water and bentonite clay - at the crossing last fall.

As part of the letter to residents, Sunoco stated that the property owners could have their water supply tested free of charge and be connected to an alternative supply during drilling operations.

On Feb. 15, Sunoco also submitted a required 24-hour notice to DEP stating that it plans to resume drilling, according to an email a DEP representative provided to Pam Bishop of anti-pipeline group Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County (Bishop provided the email to the Lebanon Daily News).

Engineers representing Sunoco told DEP that they plan to alter the entry point, angle and depth of the pipeline's Snitz Creek crossing in an effort to prevent further environmental problems, according to documents provided by Bishop.

Overall, a DEP list of "drilling mud" spills during Mariner East 2 construction lists five such spills in Lebanon County but none since late December.

Sunoco currently plans to complete construction on its 20-inch pipe by the second quarter of 2018 and to complete a second, 16-inch pipe by the end of 2018, according to its Mariner East website.

When completed, the pipeline will take natural gas liquids from Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia.

"We are glad to be returning to work and are focused on completing the Mariner East 2 project according to the updated terms of our permits," said Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields. "We will build the pipeline to the highest safety standards while protecting Lebanon County's natural resources."

Contaminated well

The West Cornwall Township supervisors are also asking Sunoco to let the public play a role in determining how to fix a situation involving contaminated water in the township.

Sunoco has been providing an alternative water supply for years to a farm at 370 Horseshoe Pike south of Route 322 that had its water sources contaminated when the company stored petroleum nearby. However, it was discovered last fall that the contamination had spread to wells at a farm and home on the north side of Route 322 after the wells were tested following a wayward pipeline construction blast.

Sunoco publicized a notice of intent to remediate on Jan. 24 in the Lebanon Daily News that invited public comment for 30 days.

The West Cornwall Township supervisors then submitted a letter in response asking Sunoco to have the township be involved in the development of remediation and reuse plans and requesting that Sunoco create a public involvement plan.

State code requires Sunoco to develop a public involvement plan if requested, which could include public meetings and notices and easily available public documents throughout the remediation process.

"We're taking it seriously," said township supervisor David Lloyd. "We want some kind of remediation on it."

A Sunoco spokeswoman said that a Sunoco subcontractor is addressing legacy issues regarding the pump station, with oversight from DEP to determine what additional measures are required.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Lebanon Daily News.

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