On January 3, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered energy giant Sunoco to halt construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, citing the company’s “unlawful conduct” and its "egregious and willful violations" of environmental laws.
The decision was a long time coming, but the state must go much further to protect residents from this dangerous, risky fossil fuel project. Here’s why this battle matters:
ME2: A Different Kind of Pipeline
The Mariner East 2 would travel 350 miles across Pennsylvania, carrying highly explosive volatile liquids, not conventional gas. Residents along the pipeline route have documented the risks to occupied structures--schools, homes and other facilities--within the blast zone of the project.
Fracked Hydrocarbons Exported to Make Plastic
The pipeline would drive more fracking in Pennsylvania and Ohio, bringing air and water pollution that has plagued frontline communities for years. But the material sought by drilling companies is intended for export to Europe, to be used in the manufacture of plastics. The massive chemical company Ineos has built “dragon ships” to carry the material to its facilities in Scotland, to be used as feedstock for the manufacture of plastic pellets.
State Government Has Supported Sunoco
Governor Wolf’s administration has been generally supportive of the fracking industry. Many critics of the Mariner East 2 pipeline point out that the Department of Environmental Protection granted approval to Sunoco even though its applications contained numerous deficiencies. The pipeline construction process suggests these critics were right to be worried: Sunoco’s negligent and reckless drilling caused over 100 spills, harming waterways and drinking water supplies. The DEP, facing public pressure and the mounting evidence of Sunoco’s dangers, finally took action.
Grassroots Resistance Built Power and Pressure
The DEP announcement followed many months of grassroots pressure from communities along the pipeline route. In October, community leaders descended on Harrisburg to deliver thousands of postcards and a petition to Governor Tom Wolf. In late December, members of the community group Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety had a face-to-face meeting with the governor, demanding that he take action to stop the pipeline in the first week of January.
Local Elections Present New Front in Fight
Frustrated by the inaction of state regulators, community leaders have pressed townships to enforce zoning laws that would create trouble for Sunoco.
In November, candidates who vowed to take a stand and protect public safety had several major victories in communities along the proposed pipeline route, most notably winning control of the Uwchlan Board of Supervisors. If these newly elected leaders come through, Sunoco could face additional legal hurdles, as grassroots pressure and appeals from state lawmakers continue to build.
Clearly, the movement to stop this dangerous pipeline will keep getting more powerful.