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Work halted again on Mariner East 2 pipeline as more drilling fluid spills occur

Energy Transfer Partners LP's affiliate Sunoco Pipeline LP was ordered March 16 to halt construction of the Mariner East 2 NGL pipeline in two central Pennsylvania counties after releasing drilling fluid while horizontally drilling parts of the pipeline's underground route.

The construction stoppage came just over a month after regulators fined Sunoco $12.6 million for numerous environmental violations that prompted a statewide construction halt of the pipeline project. That suspension was lifted in early February.

The recent drilling fluid releases — 200 gallons into a Blair County wetland and at least 50 gallons into a Lebanon County trout stream — bring the number of releases to 114 since construction of Mariner East 2 started in 2017, a revised list from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection showed.

Sunoco reported both of the most recent releases to the DEP and was able to contain the estimated 50 gallons of drilling fluids that were released into Lebanon County's Snitz Creek. Sunoco's environmental supervisor at the creek told the DEP's inspector that the discharge was noticed at 10 a.m. ET on March 15 and drilling was immediately stopped with containment starting 18 minutes later, according to the DEP's notice of violation.

No details were available from the DEP regarding the Blair County wetlands release other than its size.

DEP approval is required before drilling can resume, regulators said, and that approval will only come after a licensed geologist has examined the drilling plan and the geology surrounding the route, and devised a plan to minimize any future environmental impacts, the DEP stated in the notice.

A Sunoco spokesman was not available to answer questions about how the two work stoppages will affect the pipeline's scheduled completion date. ETP executives said Feb. 22 on the company's fourth-quarter 2017 earnings conference call that they were targeting the second quarter of 2018 to complete Mariner East 2.

"Mariner East 2 continues to catch regulatory flak as the project seeks to finish work in Pennsylvania, but we continue to expect the pipeline will be completed by the end of 2Q18," analysts at Height Securities LLC said March 19. "According to ETP's most recent conference call, 94% of the main pipeline is constructed and 83% of its horizontal drills are underway or completed. This is in spite of a month-long stoppage earlier this year after a particularly rapid-fire series of violations."

The 345,000-bbl/d Mariner East 2 is projected to span 350 miles from southwest Pennsylvania to a marine terminal at Marcus Hook outside Philadelphia. The bulk of the ethane, propane and butane it would carry would be loaded on ships for export to international markets.