By: Virginia Riddle
Oct 5: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro reported 46 criminal charges facing the Mariner East 2 pipeline. There were also an additional two charges reported to Shapiro’s office by the Pennsylvania Department of Protection (DEP).
The Mariner East 2 is a natural gas pipeline that runs through Pennsylvania as well as 17 countries. Since its construction in 2017, the pipeline has experienced issues. Its construction required drilling under rivers and waterways. Construction was often interrupted by Pennsylvania’s constantly shifting geology, causing spills of huge amounts of drilling fluids into the surrounding environment.
As construction was continuously rushed, subcontractors from around the country were hired to finish the drilling. The grand jury report states that they “were unfamiliar with Pennsylvania geology and water features,” which only led to more issues as the report continues to explain, “Leaks and spills of drilling fluid began to occur almost immediately.”
Attorney General Shapiro clarified the gravity of the situation by tweeting, “While the Mariner East 2 Pipeline was being constructed, thousands of gallons of fluid was allowed to escape and sometimes surfaced in fields, lakes, and wetlands.”
He further explained the extent to which the spills were underreported, sharing that the grand jury report that details the 400 spills found by an analysis done by an independent engineering firm name ARM Group. This was more than 4 times the number of spills that had been reported during construction. Additionally, the watchdog FracTracker Alliance documented more than 300 spills in 2020.
Erica Jackson, manager of community outreach at FracTracker says, “It’s ruined people’s drinking water, it’s damaged popular waterways. It’s had sinkholes. It’s been shut down several times… It’s kind of like a test of how terrible a pipeline can be constructed without being completely shut down and having its permits revoked.
According to state data, the Mariner East 2 had already been given almost two hundred “notices of violations” and received millions of dollars’ worth of fines from state environmental regulators. Even now with the new crimes announced by Shapiro, a successful prosecution may still only result in more fines.
Though, several state representatives are calling on Gov. Wolf to halt construction of the pipeline, and have its construction permits revoked, it is unclear whether he will act. Critics and individuals such as Dan Zegart, a senior investigator at the Climate Investigations Center, are hesitant to expect anything from Gov. Wolf, or the DEP, as neither of them have made clear and decisive action towards shutting down Mariner East 2 construction. According to Zegart, “The fact of the matter is the Wolf administration, while talking tough, has done nothing to rein in this pipeline. Absolutely nothing. The Department of Environmental Protection hasn’t done anything either.”