HARRISBURG, PA — The Mariner East pipeline project has left residents and families living nearby its path fearing for their safety, West Whiteland resident Virginia Kerslake testified Thursday.
“It’s been extremely stressful. Fortunately, so far we’ve only had to endure a few weeks, but when it’s (drilling) happening, it’s unbearable. Windows rattle. We can’t be outside. For as bad as that is and for as bad as it is for the people who lost their wells, the worst part is we’re worried for our safety and our property values,” Kerslake, of Shoen Road, said. “It’s this thing that hangs over us.”
Kerslake presented testimony before Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth H. Barnes in the second day of hearings on state Senator Andy Dinniman’s petition for interim emergency relief to prohibit construction of the Mariner East pipeline project in West Whiteland Township.
The petition calls on the PUC to prohibit construction of Mariner East 2 (ME2) and 2X (ME2X) and the operation of Mariner East 1 (ME1) in West Whiteland. You can read the petition here.
Dinniman said Kerslake was just one of many local residents who has been negatively impacted by the pipeline project and also appear to have been misled and even lied to by Sunoco and its land agents.
“Since last summer, my constituents have been telling their Mariner East horror stories to me, to the media, to my fellow legislators, to the appropriate state agencies, and basically to anyone who would listen, only to be met with silence and stonewalling from Sunoco,” Dinniman said. “Well guess what? Today, Sunoco had to sit there and hear it. It only took legal action to make them listen.”\
Kerslake testified that things began to deteriorate not long after Sunoco began drilling across the street from her home, despite earlier assurances from the company representatives that she wouldn’t “even know they were there.” Instead, she said drilling activities have resulted in a “total disruption” of her life.
Chief among the impacts on her property was the emergence of local flooding that emerged in her front yard (apparently following the path of ME1) and continue to flow and saturate the ground to this day.
She said Sunoco initially offered to pay for mitigation work to address the problem, but the company never followed through with anything other than developing a design.
During cross-examination, Sunoco’s attorneys pointed out that Kerslake and her family has entered into an easement agreement with Sunoco for which they were paid about $4,000.
Kerslake, however, pointed out that the company’s representatives and land agents had apparently misled her and other homeowners.
“We were told the drilling would take place underground and that we wouldn’t see it or hear it and it would only last two weeks,” she said. “Later, we learned it could take as much as 350 days, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and that could be stretched over a three-year period.”
She also said she feared for the safety and stability of the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which was shut down by PUC emergency order in March after it was exposed at a site in West Whiteland by a sinkhole that apparently developed as a result ME2 and ME2X drilling.
In ordering the suspension, PUC Chair Gladys Brown wrote “that permitting continued flow of hazardous liquids through the ME1 pipeline without proper steps to ensure the integrity of the pipeline could have catastrophic results impacting the public.
Earlier this month, the PUC allowed Sunoco to resume operations on ME1, which dates back to the 1930s and is permitted to carry liquid propane, butane, and ethane.
Dinniman said Kerslake’s testimony highlighted both the need to stop the pipeline project in the interest of public safety and enact tighter regulations on pipeline companies and their land agents, who currently operate in Pennsylvania with no oversight whatsoever.
“Virginia’s experience can be confirmed by many homeowners who feel that they have been intimidated, harassed and bullied by unscrupulous land agents. It seems like some of these agents, according to residents, will do or say practically anything to get landowners to sign over their property rights,” Dinniman said. “That’s why I’m working to change that.”
Recently, Dinniman’s Senate Bill 835, which calls for holding pipeline land agents accountable by defining their role and requiring registration with the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission, was unanimously passed by the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.
The bill also calls for allowing public access to a listing of registered agents, requiring criminal history background checks, and providing the commission with the authority to revoke or suspend them for reasons such as fraud or misrepresentation. Currently, land agents in other states, including Texas and North Carolina, have similar laws in place.
In addition to the PUC petition for emergency relief, Dinniman has filed a formal legal complaint calling on the PUC to prohibit “the construction and operation of ME2 and ME2X in areas of West Whiteland Township” and “the operation of ME1 in West Whiteland Township…”
That legal process is expected to take more time. You can read the complaint here.
Attorneys for both sides agreed to file their final briefs by May 16 and the judge will issue a decision in the following days.
Source: Andrew E. Dinniman (D), Pennsylvania State Senate, Senate District 19
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