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Sunoco to pay another $2M in fines

Pipeline giant spilled drilling fluids at Raystown Lake

HARRISBURG — A Texas-based pipeline giant that is heavily penalized in Pennsylvania has agreed to pay another $2 million in fines for spilling 208,000 gallons of drilling fluids at Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County.

The spills occurred during construction on the 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline project by Energy Transfer LP and its Sunoco subsidiary. The pipeline will transport highly volatile natural gas liquids.

In a release, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said, “Sunoco’s drilling activities resulted in the release of drilling fluids to the bottom of Raystown Lake. In numerous cases, the company failed to immediately report those releases,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a release. “In addition to a financial penalty, we are also ordering Sunoco to undertake a number of environmental projects to improve the aquatic habitat in Raystown Lake.”

Unauthorized discharges of drilling fluids violate the state’s Clean Streams Law and Dam Safety and Encroachments Act. Sunoco’s permits require the company to immediately report losses of circulation.

As noted in the Consent Order and Agreement between DEP and Sunoco, the penalty will go to Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Fund and Dams and Encroachments Fund.

In addition, with the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sunoco must undertake measures to improve the aquatic health of Raystown Lake.

Specifically, Sunoco must implement a fish habitat improvement plan, with a minimum monetary value of $1.15 million, to enhance conditions for fish in the lake.

Additionally, Sunoco must implement an invasive aquatic vegetation control plan to treat 110 acres of Raystown Lake for invasive plant species.

Failure to comply with the COA could result in additional penalties of $1,000 a day per violation, and any future additional inadvertent returns or losses of circulation could result in additional penalties of $5,000 per day per inadvertent return or loss of circulation.

The consent agreement was made public Thursday after it was signed Jan. 3 by officials from Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and Sunoco.

Construction on the Mariner East pipelines stretching across southern Pennsylvania has now spurred more than $15 million in fines and several temporary shutdown orders by state agencies, primarily for polluting waterways and drinking water wells, and using construction methods not approved by state regulators.

The pipeline construction has drawn the attention of county, state and federal authorities, including an FBI investigation into how Wolf’s administration came to issue permits for the construction.

When Mariner East construction permits were approved in 2017, environmental advocacy groups accused Wolf’s administration of pushing through incomplete permits that violated the law and warned that it would unleash massive and irreparable damage to Pennsylvania’s environment and residents.

Separately, Wolf’s administration in recent weeks fined another Energy Transfer subsidiary more than $30 million in connection with a gas pipeline explosion in western Pennsylvania in 2018.

In return, Wolf’s administration agreed to lift a statewide moratorium on construction permits it imposed on Energy Transfer a year ago.

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