Communities along the route of Sunoco's proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline have been warning for months that this project, a 350-mile pipeline that would carry highly flammable natural gas liquids, was a threat to local health and safety.
It didn’t take very long to show they were right.
In West Whitford, 15 families lost well water as a result of Sunoco’s drilling puncturing an aquifer on June 22. Residents were upset that they were not notified about either the drilling or the accident. This motivated some political leaders to start speaking out more forcefully. But it turned out this was the tip of the iceberg. In mid-July, Sunoco spilled 1,500 gallons of bentonite mud into a tributary of Chester Creek. Then just days later, it was revealed that there had been at least 61 spills from late April to mid-June in ten counties where drilling was underway. This disastrous record only came to light because the Department of Environmental Protection had to provide them as part of a legal battle with the Clean Air Council.
Sunoco hasn't just been losing in the court of public opinion. On July 25, a judge with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted an injunction to stop all construction in the town of West Goshen. The town has been disputing the location of a valve that Sunoco is installing in the town; officials and residents have argued that the company is blatantly violating an agreement it reached in 2015. The next day, an Environmental Hearing Board judge issued an order that stopped all drilling across the state until a hearing early next month. That order affects 55 sites across the state.
But as the damage piles up, where is Governor Tom Wolf? He finally weighed in with a statement, encouraging the DEP “to do what they are legally able and feel is appropriate to ensure the operator is held accountable.” With residents losing water, and drilling lubricant being spilled in streams and other waterways, that simply doesn’t cut it. And since Wolf’s administration granted approval of Mariner East in spite of a range of deficiencies with Sunoco’s applications, he is ultimately responsible for what has happened, and what will continue to happen.
We can turn these temporary setbacks into permanent trouble for Sunoco. These court decisions give us time to continue organizing communities opposed to Mariner East 2. In West Goshen, for instance, residents are demanding that the township enforce its zoning code to keep residents who lives within a pipeline’s "blast zone" are safe. Sunoco has shrugged off these concerns, leaving schools, homes and hospitals vulnerable.
Just a few weeks ago, Sunoco had reportedly hired a PR company to “neutralize” local opposition. That strategy has clearly backfired. The company's actions have emboldened communities to fight harder. Political leaders are starting to pressure the company. Now we must hear from Governor Wolf, who has the power to stop Sunoco right now.
That was one of the messages that dozens of residents were sending on July 30, when they gathered at five acres of land that Sunoco has cleared for the Mariner East 2. They called for a shutdown of this Sunoco project, and they planted two trees and scattered wildflower seeds. To those on hand, they represent the seeds of resistance to Sunoco, and a movement that is spreading across Pennsylvania’s affected communities.