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Wolf, DEP must police Mariner East

In December 2017, Sunoco Pipeline reported that 25 gallons of drilling fluid had leaked into Raystown Lake during construction of its controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Flash forward to January 2020.

Earlier this month, regulators announced that the spill was actually much, much larger — 8,320 times larger.

In reality, the 2017 spill resulted in 208,000 gallons of leaked drilling fluid covering eight acres of the lakebed.

As a result, the Department of Environmental Protection fined Energy Transfer LP and Sunoco nearly $2 million. The company must also spend $1.15 million in environmental improvements at the lake.

These fines may be adequate to address this specific spill and the public safety and environmental hazards it created.

But it’s time for Gov. Tom Wolf and DEP to take a more comprehensive approach to preventing the hazards caused by the reckless and dangerous Mariner East pipeline construction.

It’s time to stop that construction until a safer way forward can be established.

As the Mirror reported, Sunoco has now been fined more than $15 million for various explosions, sinkholes, leaks and other hazards during construction of these pipelines. It’s faced temporary shutdowns.

Sunoco clearly sees these fines and delays as the cost of doing business — a business that includes seizing people’s homes, intimidating local residents, creating sinkholes in residential communities and leaving untold amounts of environmental devastation in its wake.

For the nearly two million people who visit Raystown Lake every year and all citizens of the commonwealth, these fines offer little promise that Sunoco will act any differently when it reaches the next community, the next outdoor recreational area, the next natural resource.

It’s bad enough that Sunoco’s shoddy work results in regular safety and environmental violations. What’s worse is that the company doesn’t even have the decency to report these hazards — or their true scope — as they occur.

If Energy Transfer and Sunoco really cared about the communities where they operated, as they claim, they would take responsibility for their actions. They would make sure residents knew about leaks and other hazards before boating, scuba diving or fishing in places like Raystown Lake.

Fines and other penalties are designed to change behavior. They’re intended to deter offenders from making the same mistakes, intentional or not. More than $15 million later, that’s clearly not the case with Mariner East.

No matter how many times Sunoco is fined, no matter how many times exasperated neighbors show up to town halls, no matter how many investigations are conducted, Mariner East 2 construction marches on, damaging our communities and our environment.

We must rethink what we’re willing to sacrifice for Sunoco and Mariner East. Pennsyl­vanians should call on Wolf and DEP to take action that will disrupt business as usual for Sunoco.

It’s time to shut down construction until we can be sure that these underlying hazards and disregard for the wellbeing of our neighbors and our environment have finally ended.

Joseph Otis Minott, Esquire, is the executive director and chief counsel of Clean Air Council.