Mariner East

A Mariner East pipeline work site is shown on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, near Ebensburg.

 A series of permit appeals against the Mariner East 2 project have been dropped, through a settlement between three environmental groups and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Three Pennsylvania groups – the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Fayette County-based Mountain Watershed Association and the Clean Air Council – are ending their legal challenges to 20 pipeline permits, and in return, will see additional application documents for Mariner East 2 and future pipeline projects be posted online.

The Department of Environmental Protection will also assemble a stakeholders group – one that will include one member from each of the environmental nonprofits – to serve as an advisory arm on proposed Pennsylvania pipeline projects.

“DEP is pleased that we were able to reach an amicable agreement with the appellants, resolving all claims related to the issuance of these permits while incorporating new processes to ensure that future pipeline projects learn from the mistakes made by Sunoco in implementing this project,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “To be clear, DEP will continue to conduct vigorous oversight to ensure compliance with the conditions of the permits and will issue enforcement actions as necessary.”

The settlement does not make any changes to the permits issued to Sunoco Pipeline L.P., which is continuing to move the $2.5 billion project toward completion.

The pipeline is being built alongside a parallel natural gas line that spans southern Pennsylvania.  It passes through Cambria, Indiana and Westmoreland counties on its way from Ohio to Delaware County, where the liquid gases it’s designed to carry – such as propane and butane – can be shipped overseas.

Legal challenges have been common since the project started – driven partly be a series of statewide drilling lubricant spills along the corridor.

Sunoco Pipeline was fined at one point for the spills, and efforts have been made since to correct issues that led to the accidents.

“The devastation that Sunoco caused is indefensible and should never have occurred,” said Melissa Marshall, Community Advocate for Mountain Watershed Association. “This settlement is a critical first step towards preventing tragedies such as those we’ve seen with Mariner East 2 from ever happening to anyone again.”

Project supporters, meanwhile, said last week’s settlement further “validates” their permits – and the process required to obtain them.

 “This settlement validates what we already knew – that this pipeline has undergone rigorous reviews at every level, and that the requirements in place for developing and operating this pipeline are safe, legal and responsible,” Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance Spokesman Kurt Knaus said. “More than 29,000 formal comments were submitted at five hearings held across the state as part of a review process that stretched years.

“DEP reaffirmed today that its process works and that it is doing the job Pennsylvanians expect of the agency to protect the environment and keep residents safe,” he added.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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