Pennsylvania prosecutors have charged pipeline builder Energy Transfer with 48 criminal charges related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline project, including a felony count of failing to report pollution.
The state’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the charges on Oct. 5, alleging that, while constructing the pipeline, Energy Transfer let thousands of gallons of drilling fluid escape underground, leading to environmental contamination. Shapiro said the drilling fluid sometimes surfaced in streams, lakes, and residential backyards, impacting the drinking water of some Pennsylvanians who rely on wells.
“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,” Shapiro said, adding that his office was “calling for stronger laws to hold these companies accountable.”
Energy Transfer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Grand jury fact-finding documents (pdf) noted a number of specific allegations of residents in the vicinity of the pipeline reporting various contaminants in their well water, including an oily sheen, volcanic ash, dirt, and grit. The documents also alleged numerous instances of unapproved additives used in the drilling fluid, including one called Fuse-It, which may cause skin and eye irritation and be potentially toxic to fish.
“The product was also used near locations where drilling affected aquifers that fed home drinking water supplies,” the document stated.
Shapiro also alleged that, on numerous occasions, Energy Transfer failed to report losses of drilling fluid as required by state environmental protection laws.
“There is a duty to protect our air and water, and when companies harm these vital resources through negligence—it is a crime,” Shapiro said.
Mariner East transports liquids from the Marcellus/Utica shale in western Pennsylvania to customers in the state and elsewhere, including international exports from Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook complex near Philadelphia.
Energy Transfer started work on the $2.5 billion Mariner East expansion in February 2017 and originally planned to finish the 350-mile pipeline in the third quarter of 2017. The expansion project has been slowed by numerous work stoppages ordered by officials, mostly due to sinkholes near the pipeline or spills of drilling fluids used to bore under waterways.
Since May 2017, Pennsylvania has issued about 125 notices of violation to Mariner East, mostly for drilling fluid spills, including two in September.
Energy Transfer said recently it planned to complete all phases of the pipeline expansion by the end of 2021.
Reuters contributed to this report.