The district attorney of Chester County, Pa., launched a criminal investigation into construction practices on Energy Transfer LP subsidiary Sunoco Pipeline LP's Mariner East family of NGL pipelines, citing complaints of water contamination and accusing the energy company of "bullying" locals.
The investigation could yield charges of causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, environmental crimes and corrupt organizations, which may include criminal charges directly against individual employees, such as pipeline construction workers and corporate officers, District Attorney Thomas Hogan said.
Hogan said the construction work caused sinkholes and contaminated well water that affected residents, according to a Dec. 19 news release. Residents of the Philadelphia-area county also experienced "subtle and not-so-subtle bullying ... by big corporate interests," Hogan alleged.
Hogan also cited a September explosion and fire in Beaver County in the western part of the state on the Revolution gas pipeline that feeds into the Rover pipeline, both of which are owned by Energy Transfer. The blast destroyed a house and other property in the area.
"We expected the state regulators and the governor to step in and assure the safety of Pennsylvanians. They have not," Hogan said. "So now the Chester County District Attorney's Office will demand that every aspect of these pipelines be conducted safely, or we will bring into play all of the tools of the criminal justice system."
The investigation will cover past and future conduct related to the pipelines. The district attorney's office has notified Energy Transfer of the investigation, requiring the partnership to preserve all data related to the project as potential evidence and submit documentation on the sinkholes, water contamination and the Beaver County explosion.
"We were surprised to learn that the Chester County district attorney believes there is a legal basis for conducting a criminal investigation into our company and the Mariner East pipelines," an Energy Transfer spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "We vehemently deny any such wrongdoing and we take issue with the many factual inaccuracies contained in the district attorney’s press release." The statement concluded: "We look forward to opening a dialogue with the District Attorney's Office in the hope that we can bring this matter to an appropriate resolution. The safety of all those who live and work along our pipeline is our first priority and this project was planned and implemented based on that fact."
The Mariner East 1 line carries 70,000 barrels per day of NGLs from western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio to Marcus Hook, Pa., for export. The Mariner East 2 project under construction follows the same route and raises the Mariner East system's transportation capacity to 345,000 bbl/d.