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Feds’ New Focus on Pipeline Safety Raises Concerns of Overregulation

When it comes to moving fossil fuels as safely as possible from where they are produced to where they are needed, the data is clear that pipelines are the best choice, particularly over long distances.

“As long as we’ve made the choice to use natural gas, oil — name your fossil fuel resource — the only practical and safe way to move it at scale is to move it through pipelines,” said Keith Coyle, a D.C.-based attorney who advises clients throughout the United States on energy matters.

But the National Transportation Safety Board believes more can be done, in particular, to protect people and property from pipeline explosions. At issue is the potential impact radius (PIR) for a pipeline. While explosions are rare when compared to the millions of miles of active pipelines in the U.S., they do happen.

An analysis highlighted by E&E News looked at 17 pipeline explosions between 2017 and 2022. One such case was in 2019 when an explosion in Kentucky killed a woman in a nearby mobile home approximately 640 feet from the blast.

In 2000, 12 family members died in New Mexico after a pipeline ruptured and caused a blast 675 feet from where they were camping. The federal government considers 600 feet to be a safe distance, and now officials want regulators to update their calculations.

“Pipeline operators must know and understand their pipeline systems and use appropriate technologies and procedures to address risk to prevent pipeline failures while considering the inherent limitations of technology,” wrote Tristan H. Brown, Deputy Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) at Department of Transportation in a November 2022 letter. “PHMSA prescribes factors that must be addressed to mitigate risk and conducts inspections to ensure adequate measures are carried out effectively.”

That includes potentially recalculating the formula for an acceptable PIR.

But energy insiders note that, however necessary this update may be, the Biden administration has been openly hostile to the fossil fuel industry from the outset. There is concern that the legitimate debate about re-calculating the PIR might be used to make siting more difficult for future fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. Siting is already one of the most challenging aspects of expanding pipeline capacity.

“If regulators are looking at this from an analytical perspective, and what is the actual risk, that’s OK,” said Coyle. “But if they’re using it to push an agenda, to make pipelines appear less safe than they actually are, well — look, when you actually look at the data, by any measure, this is the safest choice. In terms of injuries, fatalities, the amount of product moved, etc.”

No system is entirely without risk, of course, but the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) says consumers need to understand that pipelines are safe and “accidents are rare.”

“According to the most recent numbers available, 99.99 percent of gas and crude oil is moved safely through interstate transmission pipelines,” says AFPM. “This achievement is the result of a culture that values safety above all, throughout the pipeline lifecycle,” which they say includes “pipeline operators constantly monitoring pipeline performance using state-of-the-art technology.”

But an administration that began with President Joe Biden killing a major pipeline project — the Keystone XL — and a plunge in energy leases has supporters of fossil fuel production wary about regulatory changes.

If you ask Dan Kish at the Institute for Energy Research (IER), onerous government regulations are precisely the reason people are now pushing for new calculations on the “safe distance” from pipelines.

“The goal is to make it so expensive or so impossible to use any of the U.S.’s world-class energy resources that Americans are forced to use renewable energy technology, which unfortunately only works part-time and is largely dependent upon Chinese production,” says Kish.

Still, news outlets such as Politico note energy industry groups have often been the ones to dictate policy. Pointing to a 2015 Politico investigation, Politico’s Arianna Skibell wrote that PHMSA “lacked the resources to inspect the country’s millions of miles of oil and gas lines, and that it had granted the industry it regulates significant power to influence the rulemaking process.”

“In the last decade, more than 2,600 pipeline leaks killed 122 people across the country, causing more than $4 million in damage and releasing 26.6 billion cubic feet of planet-warming pollution,” wrote Skibell, citing a 2022 study by U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Once again, Coyle notes, what is the alternative? Rail and trucks have their own safety risks, and shipping is limited both by geography and the Jones Act, which makes moving oil and gas between U.S. ports nearly impossible.

And Kish sees political opportunism at work.

“One week it’s banning gas stoves, the next it’s a proposal that would make it impossible to build and operate pipelines.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article misidentified the NTSB as the federal agency that regulates pipelines. We regret the error.

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Residents, Labor and Energy Execs Urge DEP To Approve DelVal Pipeline Expansion

After years of anti-pipeline activism across the Delaware Valley, local citizens lined up on a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) public comment call Wednesday to plead: Please build this pipeline.

Developed by Transco and Williams, the Regional Energy Access Expansion Project is a natural gas expansion project that would extend across several Pennsylvania counties including Bucks, Chester, and Delaware. The idea from Williams is to “enhance existing energy infrastructure and increase Northeast consumer access to clean, affordable natural gas.”

Doing so “will help ease supply constraints affecting customers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, providing enough natural gas supply to serve approximately 3 million homes,” the company added.

On Wednesday’s “Virtual Public Hearing” call with DEP, John DeSantis, a retired New York City schoolteacher living in Philadelphia, said inflation is hammering his budget.

“They say inflation is nearing 10 percent, but our electric bills are up around 25 (percent),” said DeSantis. “Vitamins cost more, Cheerios cost more, and we’ve had to make hard choices such as cutting out cable TV and sacrificing trips to our family in New York.”

Part of the reason why DeSantis said he moved to Philadelphia was because of the lower cost of living compared to New York City.

“We said to ourselves ‘things are much better here, what we’re saving in New York taxes and different costs.’ But that’s all been eaten away by everything that’s happened over the last year and a half,” said DeSantis. “So the approval and expansion of the pipeline will increase jobs, lower inflation, and restore prosperity to many, (which is why) I urge the DEP to support its continuation of the pipeline.”

A food distribution center operator named Corrine told DEP that people are choosing between paying bills and buying food.

“I’d like to see them be able to make the right choices and not have to spend their money on gas bills and high energy costs,” said Corrine. “It’s so hard to see people pull up to a food distribution and you realize they’re living out of their vehicle because they can’t afford a home and they can’t afford gas and heat.” The DEP’s approval of the pipeline would be a win/win for everyone, said Corrine. “Fuels will help everybody. The more money coming into the system, the more people who are able to benefit from lower costs of these fuels.”

Not everyone is a fan of the pipeline project. Delaware Riverkeeper Network, for example, told DEP it “does not support this project” because of potential negative impacts it may have on the environment. Critics of pipelines point to the recently-completed Mariner East pipeline, which encountered multiple problems during its construction.

Marion Davis with the International Teamsters pushed back, telling DEP that safety is a priority. If not, Davis said, “we would not have work for our members to work on.” Jason Hayes of the International Union of Operating Engineers also spoke about what he described as the “sometimes over-the-top safety procedures and environmental protections” with pipelines. “I’ve personally seen over the years, the safety and environmental protections of the number one priority of Transco and the contractors building these projects,” said Hayes.

Multiple studies have found pipelines are the safest way to move liquified fuels.

Industry groups and think tanks also urged DEP to approve the project. Stephanie Catarino Wissman of the American Petroleum Institute (API) Pennsylvania testified about the “importance of pipeline infrastructure construction and expansion” in the state.

“Pipelines are the safe connection between consumers and America’s abundant, reliable, cleaner energy,” Wissman said. “Additional infrastructure is needed so that no matter where people live, they can be better served – expanding the benefit of domestic energy abundance.”

And, Wissman added, API establishes and maintains over 700 industry standards and recommended practices.

Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, says the current energy crunch is a reminder that “affordable natural gas is not getting to markets that need it because of pipeline capacity limitations. Keep in mind that a portion of this pipeline in eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania is in the same area where PennEast was proposed but pulled. Opponents cheered that setback, but these constraints weaken our economy, hurt consumers, and deny skilled laborers good-paying jobs.

“The resurgence of pipeline work here is encouraging, demonstrating just how important it is for us to continue investments in energy infrastructure projects that are essential to our economy and security,” Knaus added.

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Rep. Friel Otten Challenged by ‘Moderate’ Republican Kyle Scribner

Kyle Scribner says he is the answer for moderate voters in Chester County who are tired of the “too progressive” politics of state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten.

The GOP candidate in the 155th District race views Friel Otten as a strident, one-issue Democrat who largely won office based on her opposition to the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Scribner says she has alienated voters with comments and antics while in office.

She courted controversy with remarks about union workers, comparing them to Nazis, a statement denounced by the Anti-Defamation League and her own Chester County Democratic Party. Friel Otten eventually apologized, albeit reluctantly.

“I don’t need politics. Politics needs me,” Scribner told DVJournal. “We need to have someone in there that’s looking out for everybody. I’m willing to reach across the aisle. She is sticking to her party, and that’s not acceptable.”

Danielle Friel Otten

Friel Otten declined repeated requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Scribner, who runs a property management firm and serves as a township supervisor in East Brandywine, is taking every chance he gets to address voters.

He described himself as a fiscally conservative and socially moderate Republican. He said the last seven years he spent as a township supervisor has prepared him for higher office during a time of partisan strife.

“I solve everyday people’s problems,” he said.

He will need that to appeal to voters who are deeply divided on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to the state of the economy.

Scribner said he believes he doesn’t have a “say over a woman’s body” as states move to restrict or outright ban abortions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

But he agrees with Republicans on the gun issue, believing tighter restrictions, like an assault-weapons ban advanced by House Democrats, do little to keep high-capacity firearms out of the wrong hands.

Whatever the issue, Scribner said it is paramount for elected leaders to have civil conversations despite sharp differences on policies.

“We need to get back to having conversations and not screaming matches about this. We can’t keep going down this path of aggressiveness toward one another,” he said.

National politics are bound to intrude on local races. Still, Scribner pointed to other local issues, like the sudden shuttering of Jennersville and Brandywine hospitals, as a significant concern to people in the district.

“People put too much stock in what they’re watching on TV and reading (in) the newspapers,” he said. “Knocking on doors, you get a clear vision of what people want. If you take the far right and the far left out of the picture, [people] don’t want the divisiveness.”

Scribner’s overt appeal to moderates stands in contrast to Friel Otten, who touts on her website endorsements from groups like the Sierra Club, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and the far-left Working Families Party.

Saying she cannot be “bought by corporate interests,” Friel Otten who defeated former GOP Rep. Becky Corbin in 2018, mainly on the back of a grassroots campaign targeting big oil and the pipeline.

She helped organize coalitions that opposed the Mariner East 2 pipeline to bring natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania to a port in Delaware County. However, with the project completed, energy prices surging, and the pipeline’s products being shipped to western Europe to offset Russian sanctions, the politics of Mariner East may have changed.

Friel Otten’s campaign platform this time around is built largely on broad pledges to restore good governance to Pennsylvania by “fixing Republican gerrymandering,” empowering women by protecting their right to choose, and implementing a paid family leave program.

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Green Party Candidate Digiulio Decries ‘Corporate Party’ Candidate Shapiro on Energy Policy

As an anti-fossil-fuel activist, Christina “PK” Digiulio has worked side by side with politicians like state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Montgomery County) and state Reps. Danielle Friel Otten (D-Upper Uwchlan) and Rep. Dianne Herrin (D-West Chester). Now she is hoping her political allies will stand by her as the Green Party candidate for governor.

“I agree with the Green Party’s Ten Key Values,” Digiulio told Delaware Valley Journal (DVJ). “I especially like that the Green Party first called for a ban on fracking for gas in 2008, when it was instituted by a Democratic governor in Pennsylvania, (and) the Green Party provides a contrast with the gubernatorial candidates from the two corporate parties, who have remained silent about our fossil fuel problems, specifically the health and environmental impacts.”

Digiulio has been a fixture in the fight against the now-completed Mariner East pipeline, an outspoken ally of Democrats like Friel Otten who used the pipeline issue to launch her political career. Like Muth and Friel Otten, Digiulio still wants the pipeline shut down and opposes increased Pennsylvania energy production even as gas and hone heating prices soar.

“I want it to stop,” she told NPR. “I know too many people who have been harmed, so let’s just stop this.”

Digiulio, who holds a BA from Lock Haven University and once worked as an analytical chemist for the Department of Defense, has never run for office before. But she has been active on the ground. “Most of my time within the election season was spent in the field, touring candidates, and having them meet the impacted residents I advocate for, in order to hear their stories, from their perspective,” said Digiulio. “These candidates were from all parties and all levels of government: Green, Libertarian, Republican and Democrat.”

She says the major party candidates are not taking any actual risks in order to protect the health and safety of the people.

“We are grassroots activists, environmentalists, advocates for social justice, nonviolent resisters, and regular citizens who’ve had enough of corporate-dominated politics,” said Digiulio. “Government must be part of the solution, but when it’s controlled by the 1 percent, it’s part of the problem. The longer we wait for change, the harder it gets.”

Digiulio’s fellow “advocates” Muth and Otten declined to respond to requests for comment about her candidacy.

The likely Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, includes climate change and the environment among his priorities. But Digiulio has expressed disappointment in his handling of the Mariner East pipeline.

“I am appreciative that Josh Shapiro addresses these topics. However, the solutions for a just transition are not clear or are lacking some key issues,” said Digiulio. “It seems familiar to me, another centrist position or a compromise with the [fossil fuel] industry lobby.”

Shapiro has criticized Gov. Tom Wolf’s push to get Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), saying it is not clear RGGI will address climate change while protecting energy jobs and ensuring affordable power.

“We need to take real action to address climate change, protect and create energy jobs and ensure Pennsylvania has reliable, affordable, and clean power for the long term,” Shapiro said in a statement in October 2021. “As governor, I will implement an energy strategy which passes that test, and it’s not clear to me that RGGI does.”

Digiulio said actions speak louder than words.

“I and other community watchdogs have spent the last 5-6 years documenting this on the Mariner East pipeline for plastics project,” said Digiulio. “[Shapiro’s] position is not enough, his action is what we must look at, (and) I wonder if he sees compromising or settling with a serial offender of human rights violations, environmental violations, and our state and federal laws, as bringing justice to the harmed?”

Digiulio questions what Shapiro was doing in his time as attorney general.

“Did he ever realize that he needed more data in order to do his duty, aka protecting the impacted people of Pennsylvania and the environment?” said Digiulio. “For example, some ideas I know are available: a groundwater impact study, full-scale hydrogeological studies, or maybe look into a forensic geologist? Leaving the people to defend for themselves (data-wise) against two entities which have a history of poor behavior and lots of money, still places people with much less money and resources, against a Goliath.”

Digiulio added Shapiro “seems to be playing a political goal of pleasing voters with an environmental perspective while at the same time pleasing the industry by settling outside of court against the will of impacted residents.”

The Shapiro campaign rejected Digiulio’s criticism.

“Throughout his entire career, Josh Shapiro has worked to defend Pennsylvanians’ constitutional right to clean air and pure water,” spokesperson Will Simons told DVJ. “As governor, he will continue that work by investing in clean energy and clean transportation, adopting (the) 2020 grand jury report recommendations to minimize health hazards arising from fracking, capping orphaned oil and gas wells, and addressing lead contamination in order to keep protecting Pennsylvania’s environment.”

Pointing to his time as a state representative, the campaign said Shapiro fought hard for passage of the Pennsylvania Energy Independence Fund, a $650 million spending package aimed at developing the commonwealth’s alternative energy industry and addressing the rising cost of utilities.

“As attorney general, Shapiro took on the Trump administration to halt their rollback of environmental regulations — including winning a court ruling that required the U.S. Department of Energy to issue national energy efficiency standards after the Trump administration refused to implement the standards,” said the Shapiro campaign. ”Shapiro also issued a grand jury report on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s failure to protect the public’s health from the effects of fracking.”

Shapiro is the only Democrat currently running for governor. Nine Republicans have filed paperwork to run. The primary is May 17.

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Mariner East Pipeline Construction Complete, Company Says

After years of construction challenges and contentious political debates, the Mariner East 2 pipeline is now completed, Energy Transfer (ET) announced on Wednesday.

“In February 2022, construction of the final phase of the Mariner East project is complete, and commissioning is in progress which will bring our capacity to 350,000 to 375,000 barrels per day,” ET’s Co-Chief Executive Officer Tom Long announced during the company’s fourth-quarter 2021 earnings call.

“Energy Transfer’s Mariner East franchise will now include multiple pipelines across Pennsylvania connecting the prolific Marcellus/Utica Basins in the west to markets throughout the state and the broader region, including Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook terminal on the East Coast,” Long said.

And the pipeline’s been partially operational for months. “For full-year 2021, natural gas liquids (NGL) volumes through the Mariner East system and our Marcus Hook terminal are up nearly 10 percent.”

The Dallas-based company, which operates more than 114,000 miles of pipelines across North America, reported a record amount of products through its network in 2o21, in part thanks to the Mariner East capacity already online.

“Now that the final phase is complete, it brings our capacity to 350,000 to 375,000 barrels per day,” said Long said.

The $2.5 billion, 350-mile project began in 2017, providing hundreds of jobs but also provoking political pushback from opponents of fossil fuels. While the pipeline runs across the entire state, the opposition has been particularly intense in the Delaware Valley.

Rep. Danielle Freil Otten (D-Chester County) launched her political career with a run for the state legislature on her opposition to the project. She tapped into her neighbors’ frustration with the hassles that came with construction. However, her opposition has continued even as the pipeline’s construction has drawn to a close.

As recently as last October, Friel Otten was holding press conferences calling for the shutdown of the entire pipeline project.

Her colleague Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Havertown) told DVJournal he’s still opposed. “It’s imperative that we, as a planet, reach carbon neutrality by midcentury in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Constructing new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines make reaching carbon neutrality increasingly difficult.”

Workers in the energy sector, however, have a different view.

“This is the news our members have been waiting for,” said Jim Snell, business manager of the Steamfitters Local 420. “They’ve been laboring for years on this pipeline because they know even greater opportunities are possible at the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex and beyond once everything is up and running. The economic benefits of this project have been irrefutable, but the economic promise is even greater.”

The construction of the Mariner East pipelines is credited with an estimated $9.1 billion in tax revenue and economic impact to the state. It also provided thousands of union jobs.

Thomas Shepstone, a Pennsylvania-based energy consultant said, “The Mariner East project distinguishes Pennsylvania from some of its neighbors. It proves one can still do big valuable infrastructure projects in Pennsylvania; projects that produce jobs, deliver goods safely and position the Commonwealth to grow and economically develop.”

Kurt Knaus, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, agreed. “Residents and businesses have long awaited the Mariner East project to come to fruition. Now, with its completion, Pennsylvania will soon be able to realize the full potential of this massive investment in energy infrastructure.

“The success of this project will be felt across the state for decades to come, and our communities will continue to benefit economically and environmentally from its sustained operation,” Knaus said.


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State Approves Pipeline Modification As Part of Marsh Creek Settlement

In the wake of last year’s spill of non-toxic drilling fluid into Marsh Creek, Energy Transfer — the company building the Mariner East 2 pipeline — went to the state and asked for a modification to its permit, essentially saying, “Let us finish the final section of this $2.5 billion, 350-mile project using traditional open cut trenching rather than the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) we’ve been using.”

On Monday, the state Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Conservation and Natural Resources jointly announced they had reached an agreement with Energy Transfer that allows the major modification. The agreement also permits a minor adjustment to the pipeline’s final path in Upper Uwchlan Township in Chester County.

As a result, after years of heated opposition from green activists, the completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline is now all but certain.

“We are pleased that our permit modifications have been approved for the installation of our final pipeline segment in Chester County,” ET’s Lisa Coleman said in a statement. “Once installed, construction of the full Mariner East pipeline will be complete, of which the majority is already in service.”

The modification was part of a larger settlement to address the damage done in the Marsh Creek area during the HDD process. The company is paying a $4 million fine and has agreed to “dredging at minimum the top 6 inches of sediment in about 15 acres of Ranger Cove” at Marsh Creek State Park. The company will also make some cosmetic repairs to the area and pay a civil penalty of $341,000 to the Clean Water Fund.

Ironically, ET chose the more expensive and complex HDD process, as opposed to the traditional open-trench system, in an attempt to reduce the impact of the pipeline’s construction on local communities.

For supporters of the pipeline and the energy jobs it supports, the settlement is viewed as a win.

“This modification has broad support because it’s best for the community, good for the environment, and safe for workers,” said Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance (PEIA). Knaus also notes that, if pipeline opponents hadn’t continued their “delay-at-all-costs” strategy, the pipeline could be delivering propane to southeastern Pennsylvania right now.

“The news of this approval comes at a time when many Pennsylvanians are worried about rising energy prices,” Knaus said. “Mariner East delivers valuable natural gas resources like propane, which heats homes and powers businesses.

“Our hope was that this project would have been completed by the onset of the colder winter months when the market needs it most, but the delay in the permit approval makes this improbable. At least now we can finally get to work to finish this project and soon realize its full potential in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Critics of the project dismiss any local impact on energy supplies, claiming that most of the products that make it to the Marcus Hook Terminal are exported abroad. In fact, according to ET more than 44 percent of the propane sold from Marcus Hook stays in Pennsylvania. And more than 90 percent stays within the four-state region (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey).

While other forms of natural gas liquids (NGLs) that come through the facility may be mostly sold as exports, “the volume of propane sold from truck racks at Marcus Hook every day is enough to meet up to 22 percent of Pennsylvania’s total propane demand in winter months,” ET reports. It’s a valuable resource should there be a repeat of the 2014 polar vortex, helping prevent the skyrocketing costs and lack of supply.

However, as recently as October 28, local Democratic state Reps. Dianne Herrin, Danielle Friel Otten, and state Sen. Katie Muth were still demanding the state shut down the entire pipeline, even in the face of rising energy costs and predictions of winter supply shortages.

“I am once again calling on Gov. Tom Wolf, the DEP, and the PUC to revoke Energy Transfer’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania,” Friel Otten said.

Thanks to Monday’s settlement agreement, that is highly unlikely to happen.

“The NGLs transported through Mariner East are critical to our supply chain as the building blocks used to manufacture the products we use daily,” Coleman said. “Also part of today’s approval is our agreement with the DEP and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to remediate and restore the impacted portion of Marsh Creek Lake that occurred in August 2020 during pipeline construction. We look forward to working with them on this restoration effort.”

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Latest PUC Ruling Keeps Pipeline on Track As Opponents Lose Steam

A case that began with demands for the Mariner East pipeline to be shut down has ended with a $2,000 fine, and a growing realization that the $6.1 billion energy project is now all but certain to be completed.

A unanimous vote by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) Thursday upheld an administrative law judge’s settlement in the “Safety Seven” case, brought by a group of Chester and Delaware County residents and the Andover Homeowners Association. During testimony in the 2019 hearing, opponents of the pipeline called it an imminent danger to their community and asked the PUC to end the entire project. “Shut down Mariner East before it kills us, pipeline foes implore,” read the headline in the Inquirer.

Instead, the state’s utility regulator ordered Energy Transfer, the company constructing the nearly-completed pipeline, to pay a modest fine, re-work some of its public communications and conduct a “depth of cover” and “distance between other underground pipelines/structures” survey regarding Mariner East 1 and the 12-inch workaround pipelines “as long as they are purposed for carrying highly volatile liquids.”

“We are pleased with the Commission’s action today which affirmed the Administrative Law Judge’s initial decision to deny the majority of the relief requested, but did confirm additional public awareness measures to which the company remains committed,” ET spokesperson Lisa Coleman said in a statement.

The resolution of the “Safety Seven” case sends yet another signal that green activists hoping to shut down the Mariner East pipeline are running out of options.

The 350-mile-long project began in early 2017 and parts of the pipeline are already in use. The pipeline carried natural gas liquids from the Marcellus shale fields in western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex. Pennsylvania is the second-largest natural gas producer in the nation, and demand for the product is surging as Americans shift more energy production from coal and oil to the lower-carbon-emissions alternative.

Opponents of the pipeline have waged a non-stop war to block it, particularly in southeast Pennsylvania. They’ve seized on drilling-related problems along the line, including sinkholes and the inadvertent return of drilling mud that made its way into Marsh Creek Lake. While the company has paid around $16 million in fines, efforts by political opponents of the pipeline to stop the project have been fruitless.

In April, ET entered a consent decree with the Chester County district attorney’s office to resolve lingering issues after a high-profile announcement of a criminal investigation by then-D.A. Thomas P. Hogan. When the consent decree was announced, Seth Weber, a special prosecutor with the Chester County DAO, told Delaware Valley Journal, “We are not stopping the pipeline, nor do we want to.”

Last month, on the eve of announcing his bid for governor, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced 48 criminal charges against Energy Transfer over pipeline issues, including one alleged felony. Shapiro acknowledged most of the incidents in the grand jury presentment have already been addressed by the Department of Environmental Protection through civil actions, for which the company has already paid fines and made restitution.

“I’m here to tell you, that’s not enough,” Shapiro said at the time, though he also conceded his efforts would not lead to ending the pipeline’s construction.

That remains the goal of some progressive Democrats like Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, who was on hand at Shapiro’s announcement. “It is time for an immediate halt of the Mariner East pipeline project. I am once again calling on Gov. Wolf, the DEP, and the PUC to revoke Energy Transfer’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania,” she said.

And state Sen. Katie Muth told DVJournal, “A win for the environmental movement would be for this company to be kicked out of Pennsylvania for good.”

After Thursday’s ruling, it appears that is very unlikely to happen.

The full text of the PUC’s ruling can be found here.

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Green Activists Want Pols to Shut Mariner East Down. What Happens Then?

While Republicans say Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s announcement of criminal charges against Energy Transfer is really about politics and not the pipeline, Pennsylvania’s green activists are transparent about what they want.

Kill the Mariner East 2. And do it now.

Which raises the question, what happens if they succeed?

“Now that the attorney general and the grand jury have done their job, there should be no question: It is time for an immediate halt of the Mariner East pipeline project,” green activist Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (D-Upper Uwchlan) said after Shapiro’s press conference. “I am once again calling on Gov. Wolf, the DEP, and the PUC to revoke Energy Transfer’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania.”

State Sen. Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks) joined Friel Otten and a handful of Pennsylvania progressives to make the same demand in a letter to the Wolf administration.

“We urge you to take immediate action to halt the Mariner East Pipeline project, revoke the company’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania, issue a moratorium on all future permits, and ensure all impacted residents have clean drinking water in their homes through a public water provider,” they wrote.

It’s an extreme stance, particularly given the $2.5 billion, 350-mile project transporting natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook facility is nearly completed, and thousands of energy sector jobs are at stake.

“Mariner East 2 is critical because the natural gas in southwestern Pennsylvania comes out of the ground with all kinds of other chemicals,” says David N. Taylor, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association. “The natural gas itself is methane, but the methane comes along with ethane, butane, propane, pentane, and natural gasoline, so these are feedstocks that manufacturers can use to make things.”

That is why Taylor says it is so important to get those petrochemical feedstocks from where they are harvested to where they can be processed and then used as a manufacturing input.

“That’s the purpose of Mariner East 2,” says Taylor. “It’s to deliver those inputs from southwestern Pennsylvania to southeastern Pennsylvania.”

Energy Transfer projects the Mariner East and Marcus Hook projects will generate more than $100 million a year for Pennsylvania’s economy. Critics dismiss those numbers, but they concede the energy sector is a key part of the state’s finances.

Speaking about natural gas at an October 4 meeting of the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, David Callahan, president of Marcellus Shale Coalition, said Pennsylvania has benefited greatly.

“Thanks to our abundant natural gas resources, along with our embrace of competitive energy markets, Pennsylvania has benefited from tens of billions of dollars in investment and several hundred thousand direct and indirect jobs, including those in the building trades,” said Callahan. “Nearly $14 billion has been invested to date in new natural gas-powered electric generation, not to mention the billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs associated with downstream utilization of natural gas and natural gas liquids such as the petrochemical facility in Beaver County that will open up considerable downstream opportunities.”

Callahan went on to add that these natural gas-related investments across the state have brought “billions of dollars to our communities and helped support thousands of more Pennsylvanians with family-sustaining wages.”

If activists succeed in shutting down the pipeline, it would leave manufacturers struggling to get natural gas-related raw materials they need.

“There are many manufacturing processes that require a temperature point that can only be met with natural gas,” says Taylor. “You may have heard about the Shell investment to turn ethane into polyethylene, and polyethylene is at the top of the top of the value chain that — depending on how you process it — can yield every kind of plastic, rubber, paint, glaze, sealant, adhesive, and solvent, all  consumer products people handle and use every day.”

And then there’s the looming national shortage of natural gas. The EU is already suffering through an energy crisis so severe that some nations are considering a return to coal. Lack of access to fuels, natural gas in particular, is driving electricity prices to all-time highs in Europe.

Now come warnings the U.S. may face supply issues as well. Ernie Thrasher, chief executive officer of Xcoal Energy & Resources LLC, told Bloomberg utility companies fear fuel shortages this winter could trigger blackouts.

“These utilities are worried the assets they have can’t get enough fuel,” Thrasher said. “There are people of high authority at large utilities who are deeply concerned.”

Pipeline politics aren’t helping. There has been a spate of pipeline closings due to political pressures since President Joe Biden took office in January. He issued an executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day on the job. In July, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced they were canceling the Atlantic Coast pipeline due to “legal uncertainty” in the face of repeated challenges from pipeline opponents. And the plug was pulled on the PennEast pipeline just months after winning a major victory before the Supreme Court for similar reasons.

If convicted, Shapiro’s office says Energy Transfer will be sentenced to fines and restitution.