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Advocacy group sues over Mariner East spills, saying project lacks water permit

Sunoco Pipeline LP should pay millions of dollars for violating federal and state water pollution regulations while building a pair of NGL pipelines across Pennsylvania without the proper water permits, the environmental activists at Delaware Riverkeeper charged in a federal suit.

The group wants construction on the line, due to start service in the third quarter, to be halted until Sunoco, an Energy Transfer Partners LP affiliate, gets a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP. Further, Riverkeeper wants the court to require Sunoco to test and clean up after any water pollution incidents and provide drinking water to affected residents.

Riverkeeper claims Sunoco let storm water drainage from construction sites foul fresh water sources while continuing to spill drilling muds into freshwater, all violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania's Clean Streams laws that could have been avoided if Sunoco had gone through the permitting process for the 345,000-bbl/d Mariner East 2 NGL pipelines.

"Sunoco failed to secure the appropriate water pollution permits designed to control these discharges," according to the lawsuit, filed June 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. "Whether Sunoco's actions stem from a series of calculated business decisions or complete indifference to Pennsylvania's regulatory efforts, Sunoco has endangered the environment and violated state laws, federal laws, rules, and permits designed to protect the quality of Pennsylvania's waters."

"Pipeline companies have been getting away with this nationwide — building without an NPDES permit," Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said in an interview. "It's very clear in the law: [Water] permits are required. The EPA and the states aren't enforcing the law, so we are," she said of her organization's citizen suit filed under the Clean Water Act.

"We understand there are varying opinions regarding infrastructure projects and their construction," Sunoco spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said in a June 13 email. "We remain in compliance with our environmental permits and will continue to follow those requirements. In addition, we continue to work with the DEP to ensure impacted homeowners have clean water supplies."

In February, Sunoco paid $12.6 million in Pennsylvania DEP fines for numerous environmental violations after a nearly two-month shutdown of construction on the pipeline. At that time, the agency said Sunoco had released drilling fluids on 108 occasions while building the line.

Since the settlement, Mariner East 2 has seen more drilling mud spills, according to the DEP, which now keeps an online spreadsheet tallying the inadvertent releases.

Construction was shut down again May 21 by order of an administrative law judge for the state's Public Utilities Commission following a complaint from the Democratic state senator who represents the township in Chester County where sinkholes appeared beneath the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which is already in operation. The full PUC is expected to lift that suspension at a June 14 commission meeting.

According to Riverkeeper, the law calls for $37,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Water Act. Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X have been under construction for more than a year.

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