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Chester County investigation of pipeline builder Energy Transfer now includes grand jury


A Mariner East pipeline valve site on the edge of the Andover development, Thornbury Township, Delaware County, illustrates the pipeline’s path through densely-populated southeastern Pennsylvania. (Jon Hurdle/StateImpact Pennsylvania)

Energy Transfer, parent company of Sunoco Logistics and builder of the Mariner East natural gas liquids pipelines, is the target of a Chester County grand jury investigation.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan would not confirm or deny the grand jury investigation, which was reported by the Delaware County Daily Times newspaper editor Phil Heron, who had been called as a potential juror last week.

Hogan announced a criminal investigation into the company’s practices building the Mariner East pipelines in December. In January, Hogan hired a former federal prosecutor to assist with the investigation.

At the time, Hogan said Seth Weber’s appointment “certainly sends a message that we are taking it very seriously, and that somebody who has experience in this field is taking it very seriously.”

Hogan is a former federal prosecutor himself, and has worked defending oil and gas industry clients in private practice.

Grand juries are typically convened in secret in order to protect the target of an investigation in which no criminal charges have yet been filed. Prosecutors have control of a grand jury, which reviews evidence, and can vote to issue subpoenas or recommend charges be filed.

Kathryn Urbanowicz is a staff attorney for Clean Air Council, which has filed lawsuits related to the Mariner East pipeline project in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and with the Environmental Hearing Board.

“It doesn’t mean any charges are going to result from this but it’s a very serious commitment of the D.A.’s time,” Urbanowicz said. “So I don’t think it’s a decision that’s made lightly.”

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline has resulted in more than 80 environmental violations. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection assessed more than $12.6 million in penalties against the company for drilling mud spills that damaged waterways and sensitive wetlands. In Chester County, construction of the line resulted in the loss of private drinking water wells and  sinkholes that exposed the parallel Mariner East 1 line.

Regulators forced the company to shut down the Mariner East 1 line because of the most recent sinkhole. An exposed natural gas liquids line is at risk for explosion.

Rich Raiders, an environmental attorney who represents landowners involved in cases against Energy Transfer/Sunoco Logistics, said a grand jury could be seen as the “middle” stage of a criminal investigation.

“This tells me that they are dealing with a lot of very interesting issues,” Raiders said. “Normally, a grand jury doesn’t show up unless there’s a significant amount of work to do.”

StateImpact Pennsylvania is a collaboration among WITF, WHYY, WESA and the Allegheny Front to report on the commonwealth’s energy economy.

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