During May and June, Energy Transfer Partners, formerly Sunoco, spilled an estimated 220,000 gallons of drilling mud at sites in 12 Pennsylvania counties during Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) for its proposed Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline. The vast majority of the mud, 160,000 gallons, was spilled during five different incidents in Cumberland County. In Chester County, one of the incidents punctured an aquifer, contaminating the private water supplies of nearby homeowners. None of the 61 incidents across the state was disclosed to the public by either the company or the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. In fact, the vast majority of residents near the Chester County spill said at a public meeting that they learned about it from neighbors. Two people learned about it from local television news reporters doing interviews.
Suffice it to say, Pennsylvanians are pretty upset about it, some so much so that they decided to share their concerns with Senator Pat Toomey.
In a response to one constituent dated July 26th, Toomey wrote:
Thank you for contacting me about the Mariner East 2 pipeline. I appreciate hearing from you.
As you know, the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline would transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shale Formations in Ohio and western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex outside of Philadelphia. Because the proposed pipeline would cross state boundaries, the Mariner East 2 must receive approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and obtain various state and local permits before construction can begin.
I understand the importance and affordability of natural gas in Pennsylvania and the need to expand our pipeline infrastructure in an environmentally-safe manner. With the enactment of commonsense policy reforms, natural gas production can kick start our energy security and continue supporting thousands of workers and families in Pennsylvania. Please know that my staff and I pay close attention to pipeline constructions projects in Pennsylvania, and I will keep your thoughts in mind as the Mariner East 2 pipeline progresses through the approval process.
Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.
Considering that he and his staff “pay close attention to pipeline construction projects in Pennsylvania,” it’s hard to understand how they missed that the pipeline is under construction. To be fair, Senator Toomey has been busy trying to strip millions of Americans of their health coverage. He hasn’t had time to keep up with the headlines in major media outlets across his state or U.S. News & World Report or Reuters or the text of the letter to which he is responding. For instance, a story that received broad coverage a day before Toomey replied was the state Environmental Hearing Board’s decision to halt all drilling on the route pending a hearing.
It is surprising, though, that he didn’t know that the pipeline would carry natural gas liquids (NGLs), not natural gas, given his statement in Sunoco’s press release when Mariner East 2’s predecessor, an 80-year old pipeline renamed Mariner East 1, started moving NGLs last year. “U.S. Senator Pat Toomey said: ‘As an early supporter of this effort, I’m pleased that the Mariner East project has been completed. Connecting Delaware County to Western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale development will help grow our Commonwealth’s economy and support good-paying jobs for many Pennsylvanians. It also is an important step towards America’s energy independence and expanding our role as a global energy exporter.’”
He was not exaggerating when he called himself an early supporter. Back in 2011, when Mariner East was still on the drawing board, Toomey threatened to delay the America’s Cup World Series unless a waiver granted to the boats in that race would also be granted to the foreign tankers that would move ethane from Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania to Texas. Under the Jones Act, only U.S. flag ships can carry cargo and passengers from one U.S. port to another. Since no U.S. ships were capable of carrying NGLs, foreign carriers needed the waivers Toomey helped them get.
How pipelines are regulated in this country is a mystery to most people, so his error in stating that approval for the pipeline from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was required would be more understandable if not for another big news story in Pennsylvania back in 2013. In order to reverse the flow of Mariner East 1, the 80-year old pipeline that had carried gasoline and other products east to west, Sunoco needed to build a lot pumping stations and valves along the route. After bullying homeowners with threats of taking their land by eminent domain, something the law allows for certain federally-regulated pipelines, Sunoco discovered that theirs was not considered a federally-regulated pipeline since only the last half-mile is under a part of the refinery that sits in Delaware. Sunoco then applied to the Public Utility Commission for Public Utility Corporation status even though its intentions to ship the gas to other parts of the country or the world for profit were clear. What followed was a protracted, hard-to-miss legal battle that continues still.
Toomey continues his flawed response with the perfunctory references to energy security and jobs. The ethane being moved through Mariner East 1 is now being shipped to Scotland and Norway where it is cracked open to extract ethylene used to make single-use plastics, like plastic shopping bags. Nowhere in any of that is a shred of anything that comes close to being a boon to energy security. And the jobs claim? Every single pipeline company touts wildly exaggerated job creation numbers knowing they are red meat to elected officials and a desperate populace. The impressive numbers always refer to the number of temporary jobs that will be supported, not created, during construction. After the pipeline’s built, the number drops to about 20 – 25 jobs, even for pipelines that cross a state like Mariner East 2.
His letter made the rounds on Facebook where some who didn’t believe they could think less of him now do. “Please don’t hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance,” he writes in his closing. No worries, Senator Toomey, not much chance of that happening.