Sunoco Pipeline ruled a public utility in Mariner East challenge

Sunoco agreed to pay more than $313,000 in fines after environmental regulators flagged spills of drilling fluid and other problems during construction of the Mariner East II pipeline across Pennsylvania.

The 39 instances flagged by the state Department of Environmental Protection as violations of the clean streams and dam safety laws included three in Washington County last year. Those spills of the sludge composed of bentonite clay and water figured in one of two consent agreements the company reached last week with DEP officials.

In the first, signed Aug. 20, Sunoco Pipeline LP agreed to pay more than $240,800 in fines to the state and to the conservation districts in various counties where the spills occurred last year. In another pact entered the following day, the company said it would pay roughly $78,600 to the state and the Cumberland County Conservation District to address violations of its permits and state law during construction in that county, including by causing erosion into several streams in 2017.

The agreements are the latest in the project’s regulatory history, which DEP officials said involves a total of more than $13 million in fines assessed by state agencies.

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said Sunoco’s “actions, which resulted in violations of permits and laws that are meant to protect our waterways, are unacceptable.”

“DEP will maintain the stringent oversight that we have consistently exercised by monitoring Sunoco and taking all steps necessary to ensure that the company complies with its permits and the law,” he added.

Of the spills last year in Washington County, two were in Nottingham Township and affected an unnamed stream that feeds Peters Creek. A third impacted a tributary of Little Chartiers Creek in North Strabane Township.

The spills in Nottingham occurred in May of last year. One involved 8 to 16 ounces of bentonite sludge, while the other was listed as “unquantified.” The one in North Strabane was about two months later and involved three ounces.

The Washington County Conservation District will receive $1,000 from the penalties against Sunoco, according to the documents.

The largest quantified spill last year was listed as having involved 3,500 gallons and occurred in Cambria County.

Sunoco representatives said in an email they were “happy to have resolved this issue with the DEP as we remain focused on safely completing construction of this important pipeline.”

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