AG Shapiro charges Mariner East pipeline developer with environmental crimes

Local News

DOWNINGTOWN — On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that his office’s Environmental Crimes Section has charged Energy Transfer, L.P. (Energy Transfer) with 46 counts of environmental crimes for their conduct during the construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline.

Shapiro and the 45th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury filed these charges together against the energy company, which is the corporate successor to Sunoco Pipeline L.P.

After the Grand Jury had concluded, two additional counts were added, based on a criminal referral from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), to bring the total to 48 charges in all.

“There is a duty to protect our air and water, and when companies harm these vital resources through negligence — it is a crime,” said AG Shapiro. “By charging them, we can both seek to hold them criminally accountable and send a clear message to others about how seriously we take protecting the environment and public health.”

The Mariner East 2 Pipeline project crosses 17 counties in the southern tier of Pennsylvania. The Grand Jury learned that at many of the locations, Energy Transfer received permits that allowed horizontal directional drilling as the construction method.

However, while constructing the pipeline, Energy Transfer repeatedly allowed thousands of gallons of drilling fluid to leak into the ground, which sometimes surfaced in fields, backyards, streams, lakes and wetlands.

The Grand Jury found that there were multiple drill locations where the drilling fluid entered the water supply while containing unapproved additives. This impacted the drinking water for Pennsylvanians who rely on water wells.

Energy Transfer failed to report the losses of fluid to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) numerous times, in spite of the legal requirement to do so.

“Under our state laws, if convicted, this company will be sentenced to fines and restitution,” said Shapiro. “There is no jail time for these environmental crimes, and fines are not enough. That’s why we are, once again, calling for stronger laws to hold these companies accountable and protect Pennsylvanians’ health, and demanding DEP toughen up the independent oversight we need them to provide for the industries they regulate.”

In August 2020, early estimates said that 8,100 gallons of fluid spilled into Marsh Creek Lake in Chester County from an unintentional release. Later estimates have put that number much higher: between 21,000 to 28,000 gallons of contaminated fluid. In total, more than 80,000 gallons of this fluid were released in and around the lake during the construction of this one segment of the pipeline between 2017 and 2020.

Grand Jurors heard from homeowners and residents who complained of grey and coffee-colored water after construction began near their homes.

“Pennsylvanians from impacted communities testified about thousands of gallons of drilling fluid being lost underground — groundwater and lakes, rivers, and streams contaminated,” Shapiro added. “What they said was consistent: Energy Transfer started drilling, the fluid started leaking, their drinking water was impacted, DEP wasn’t notified, and nobody was held criminally accountable. These charges are changing that, starting today.”

The Delaware County District Attorney’s office was the first to refer this case to the Office of Attorney General and assigned a prosecutor from their Environmental Crimes Unit to work with our office on this case.

“Pennsylvania’s criminal prosecutors have made it clear that the environment and our communities will be protected, using the tools that the criminal justice system offers,” said Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer. “I have established a unit dedicated to Environmental Crimes prosecutions that have supported this investigation and we will continue the fight for environmental justice.”

The Grand Jury recommended that Energy Transfer be charged with:

  • 22 counts of Prohibition of Discharge of Industrial Waste under the Clean Streams Law
  • 22 counts of Prohibition Against Other Pollutions under the Clean Streams Law
  • Two misdemeanor counts of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law
  • One felony count of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law.

“We thank the Office of the Attorney General for their important work in holding Sunoco Pipeline L.P./ Energy Transfer accountable for these continuing and devastating environmental violations,” said Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan. “Although my office filed a civil complaint against these perpetrators to stop their egregious behavior, we made the referral to the Office of Attorney General to assist us with these issues because of their vast resources and expertise in environmental law. We are grateful for our partnership in protecting the environment and the safety of our citizens.”

AG Shapiro also announced that his office received a criminal referral from DEP regarding an incident in West Whiteland Township regarding Energy Transfer’s use of a guided auger bore that impacted a wetland and a nearby creek without permission from DEP.

This case is being prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Franz. All charges are accusations and the defendant is innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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