WEST CHESTER, PA — State Senator Andy Dinniman this week welcomed news reports that Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would hold additional hearings on Sunoco’s plans to switch drilling methods for its Mariner East II pipeline in West Whiteland Township.
In addition, he said that Sunoco’s agreement to reportedly meet with Chester County Emergency Services officials further highlights the need to pass legislation to ensure that emergency services are fully informed of and have the resources they need to adequately prepare for and respond to potential pipeline safety emergencies.
“There’s no doubt that the significant changes Sunoco has proposed for this project call for a closer look and examination of the issues at stake,” Dinniman, who serves on the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said. “Again, after the number of problems (including one that risked potentially ‘catastrophic results’ according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission) related to this project, my constituents are rightfully concerned. Such drastic reversals in course only heighten those concerns and raise most questions about what exactly Sunoco is being permitted to do and why.”
Dinniman was the first to call for additional hearings regarding Sunoco’s change from Horizontal Direct Drilling (HDD) to open trench techniques in a March 4 letter to DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
“The request to modify construction methods from HDD to open trench construction represents a monumental change in this project’s impact. As you know, the proposed construction route comes within feet of many Chester County homes, runs adjacent to elementary schools, senior living facilities, and cuts into the heart of a busy commercial district,” he wrote. “Due to the significant nature of the change from HDD to open trench construction techniques, I strongly request that prior to consideration of modifications the Department hold public hearings to discuss these changes with citizens in an open forum. Citizens in my district have experienced significant harm throughout this process and are demanding accountability and transparency from this point forward.”
While Dinniman said he was encouraged by comments from a DEP spokesperson in the April 5th Philadelphia Inquirer that the agency would conduct a new hearing on Mariner’s permits due to the change, he wondered what took so long and why his office never received a direct response from the agency.
“Such a hearing should have been approved and scheduled automatically,” he said. “I should not have had to press for it on behalf of my constituents.”
Similarly, he said that Sunoco should not have to be pressed to meet with Chester County Emergency Services officials.
Chester County officials announced in the April 5th Daily Local News that Sunoco representatives recently agreed to meet with county emergency services personnel to present a full pipeline integrity management plan. According to the report, the county has requested that Sunoco set up a date for a meeting by April 9.
“Again, while I welcome such a meeting in the interest of public safety and because it just makes sense, I don’t think Sunoco should need to be prodded to help prepare our communities for a potential emergency. It seems like a responsible company would want to be part of that dialogue from the beginning,” Dinniman said.
Dinniman also said such meetings highlight the need to pass his Senate Bill 929 and 930.
Senate Bill 930 requires public utility facilities transporting natural gas or natural gas liquids meet with the county emergency coordinator entrusted to respond in the event of natural gas release and provide, at a minimum, the following:
- Identification of any high consequence areas along the pipeline route and the potential impact radius located within the jurisdictional limits of the local emergency management organization; and
- The public utilities current emergency operating procedures.
Although current state law prohibits the PUC from sharing specific information related to public utilities, the law does not prevent the company itself from providing such information directly to emergency response officials.
“We understand that this is confidential information, but that should not be a reason to jeopardize local safety,” Dinniman said. “Part of the problem with current pipeline regulations in Pennsylvania is this patchwork of rules and legal requirements that has government agencies and companies operating in silos and not communicating. This legislation provides a way to share vital information in the case of a pipeline emergency while satisfying both national security and public safety concerns.”
In addition to having access to necessary pipeline information, local emergency services departments also need to have the resources, training, and equipment needed in case of a potential pipeline emergency.
Dinniman said that is why he has introduced Senate Bill 929 to allow either counties or local municipalities to levy a fee on pipelines to fund just that.
“If pipeline companies are going to reap significant profits by transporting highly volatile and dangerous materials through our neighborhoods and backyards, they have an obligation and responsibility to help ensure that our emergency services personnel are prepared for every possibility so that our communities are kept safe,” he said.
Source: Andrew E. Dinniman (D), Pennsylvania State Senate, Senate District 19
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