DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro has filed criminal charges in a major environmental crimes case against Energy Transfer, L.P., a corporate successor to Sunoco Pipeline, L.P., with many counts of environmental crimes for its handling of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline construction.
AG Shapiro initially announced the company was charged with 46 counts of environmental crimes, and then after deliberations with the Grand Jury, added on two additional counts from a criminal referral from Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection.
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The pipeline goes through 17 counties in the southern part of the state. During the investigation by the Grand Jury, Energy Transfer got permits to allow horizontal directional drilling. During the construction, thousands of gallons of drilling fluid spilled into fields, backyards, streams, lakes and wetlands between 2017 and 2020.
“There is a duty to protect our air and water, and when companies harm these vital resources through negligence — it is a crime,” AG Shapiro said. “By charging them, we can both seek to hold them criminally accountable and send a clear message to others about how seriously we take protecting the environment and public health.”
Shapiro says Energy Transfer never reported the fluid spill to the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection on numerous occasions in spite of it being a legal obligation. Investigations found there were multiple drill locations where the fluid was contaminated with unapproved additives, impacting drinking water.
“Under our state laws, if convicted, this company will be sentenced to fines and restitution. There is no jail time for these environmental crimes, and fines are not enough. That’s why we are, once again, calling for stronger laws to hold these companies accountable and protect Pennsylvanians’ health, and demanding DEP toughen up the independent oversight we need them to provide for the industries they regulate.”
Over 8,000 gallons spilled into Marsh Creek Lake in Chester County in August 2020 from an “unintentional release.” Investigations found later on the numbers were much higher — over 80,000 gallons of contaminated fluid were released in and around that lake between 2017 and 2020.
Homeowners sent their concerns about how this incident affects their drinking water, including some who reported incidents of grey and coffee-colored water after construction commenced.
“Pennsylvania’s criminal prosecutors have made it clear that the environment and our communities will be protected, using the tools that the criminal justice system offers. I have established a unit dedicated to Environmental Crimes prosecutions that have supported this investigation and we will continue the fight for environmental justice,” Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said, who was the first to refer the case to the AG.
“We thank the Office of the Attorney General for their important work in holding Sunoco Pipeline L.P./ Energy Transfer accountable for these continuing and devastating environmental violations,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said. “Although my office filed a civil complaint against these perpetrators to stop their egregious behavior, we made the referral to the Office of Attorney General to assist us with these issues because of their vast resources and expertise in environmental law. We are grateful for our partnership in protecting the environment and the safety of our citizens.”
A Delaware County resident also testified on her agreement with Energy Transfer to allow the drilling, where the company promised it would be minimal. The resident then noticed her appliances getting destroyed by the sediment in her water. When she reported it, reps said the sediment would not impact her water supply’s safety.
After testing, her water was found to have high concentrations of E. Coli and Fecal Coliform.
It also caused her daughter to be hospitalized.
The Grand Jury recommended 22 counts of Prohibition of Discharge of Industrial Waste under the Clean Streams Law. They also recommend one felony and two misdemeanor counts of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law.
AG Shapiro says his office also received a criminal referral from DEP about an incident concerning Energy Transfer’s use of a guided auger bore impacting a wetland and a nearby creek without permission.
The case will be prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Franz.