Drilling leaks contaminate wetland, river

Work on Sunoco pipeline on hold

In three days, two drilling leaks contaminated waters along the route of the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline project in Blair County.

On Thursday, about 200 gallons of fluid leaked into a Frankstown Township wetland, and, on Saturday, diluted fluid could be seen in a 1.5-mile stretch of the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River.

The state Department of Environmental Protection explained both of these violations in a pair of letters sent to the project’s developers at Sunoco Pipeline LP and its contractors at Michels Pipeline Construction.

“Work has been suspended at both locations and will need DEP approval to restart,” department spokesman Neil Shader said. “The investigations into both incidents are ongoing, and there is no timeline for restart.”

The Thursday incident was contained to a project work area, which also happens to be a wetland, Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said.

On Saturday, Sunoco officials claimed the leak was the result of an overflowing drill pit, according to the letter.

Work at that site caused groundwater to flow into the pit at a rate of 500 gallons per minute, “which exceeded onsite capacity to effectively manage it,” the letter read.

A same-day inspection was conducted by DEP employees, and it confirmed fluids were being discharged into the river.

The drilling fluid — a combination of water and bentonite clay — is considered industrial waste.

The fluid is used to lubricate drills that bore a path for the pipeline.

In both leak cases, DEP officials noted that the discharge of drilling fluid was not authorized.

The unauthorized discharge of fluids is a violation of the state’s Clean Streams Law, the letters explain.

In the letters, DEP officials also demand that Sunoco representatives meet a number of stipulations before work can resume, including the submission of reports and documents related to the leaks.

Sunoco Pipeline LP, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, is working to construct the Mariner East 2 — a natural gas pipeline that is planned to cross the state.

Along the way, it will pass through Blair, Cambria and Huntingdon counties.

The recent leaks aren’t the first since the pipeline project began.

Last month, DEP fined the developers $12.6 million for violating construction permits while building the 300-plus-mile pipeline. Those violations included fluid leaks.

The project has garnered widespread criticism throughout the region, including in the Mirror’s online comment section.

Ellen Gerhart, a Huntingdon County resident who has opposed the pipeline commented: “Wow, another spill … by an incompetent company.”

Others in the community have supported the pipeline for its economic benefits.

On Monday, Shader said his department will continue to monitor pipeline construction while addressing any missteps.

“DEP will continue its oversight of the project and issue enforcements as necessary,” he said.

Shields did not answer an email with questions about the most recent incidents by early Monday evening.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.