On March 7, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued an Emergency Order regarding Sunoco Pipeline L.P., also known as Energy Transfer Partners (Sunoco), to suspend operations of the Mariner East 1 Pipeline (ME1) and require additional testing and analysis on that line, in response to safety concerns regarding the integrity of that pipeline.
According to a Petition for an Ex Parte Emergency Order filed by the PUC’s independent Bureau of Investigation (BIE) and Enforcement, engineers from the PUC’s Pipeline Safety Division investigated reports of the formation of sinkholes near the ME1, located along Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. ME1 is an 8-in. diameter Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) pipeline, used to transport liquid propane, butane and ethane.
A total of three sinkholes have been discovered near, or in the path of, ME1. The sinkholes are also near the area where construction, including horizontal directional drilling (HDD), is underway for a new pipeline, known as Mariner East 2.
According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, posted March 7 at post-gazette.com, “In the past week, three sinkholes had formed along 550 feet in West Whitehead Township, a densely populated area in Chester County.”
The newspaper’s story continues, “According to the PUC, the first sinkhole — 8 feet wide and 3 feet deep — was discovered in December, although local residents said it was a month earlier. The second sinkhole materialized last week and was five times deeper.”
The PUC Emergency Order requires the following:
- Within 24 hours of the entry of this Order, Sunoco shall run at least one in line inspection tool through the Mariner East 1 Pipeline, inspecting the pipeline from a point at least 1 mile upstream from the Lisa Drive location to a point at least 1 mile downstream from Lisa Drive.
- Within 12 hours of completing the inspection tool run Sunoco will suspend hazardous liquids transportation service on its Mariner East 1 pipeline for a period of time, presently estimated by BIE and Sunoco to be of 10-14 days duration (the Study Period), in order for Sunoco to perform the following:
- Conduct geophysical testing and analyses (including at least the following: resistivity, seismic and gravity) in the HDD area described in the BIE Petition; and
- Share all findings of the inspection tool run and geophysical testing with BIE/Pipeline Safety staff; and,
- Meet and discuss the findings with BIE/Pipeline Safety staff, such discussions shall include, but not be limited to Sunoco’s addition of strain gauges to Mariner East 1 in the study area.
- During the Study Period, Sunoco shall maintain sufficient minimum pressure in Mariner East 1 to avoid gasification of NGLs. However, the NGLs shall not be flowing during such period.
- Sunoco will not reinstate hazardous liquids transportation service on Mariner East 1 until the earlier of the following:
- Completion of the inspections and testing specified in the Commission’s Order, with any corrective actions taken, or planned to be taken, to the satisfaction of BIE/Pipeline Safety coupled with BIE/Pipeline Safety’s concurrence with reinstatement of transportation service on Mariner East 1, subject to Commission review and approval.
- If BIE/Pipeline Safety does not concur with Sunoco’s request to resume service on ME1, Sunoco may file an Answer to the BIE Petition within 3 business days following notice of BIE’s noncurrence.
- The Petition and Answer will be assigned for expedited hearing(s) before the Office of Administrative Law Judge;
- Sunoco may not resume hazardous liquids transportation service on Mariner East 1 without prior Commission approval.