A controversial natural gas pipeline is slated to begin flowing again in Chester County, months after it was blamed for causing a sinkhole that forced a temporary halt to the project.
Sunoco, which operates the Mariner East 1 pipeline, has notified officials that it intends to restart the project by Monday. Construction had been suspended since Jan. 20, after a 5-foot-wide and 10-foot-deep sinkhole appeared on a property on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township.
Going forward, Sunoco will have to ensure safety at the location by having workers inspect and record the Lisa Drive section of the pipeline on a daily basis until the area is filled with specialized grouting and also having them performing geophysical tests of the area behind Lisa Drive every six months for two years and reporting the findings to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement.
A strain gauge at the sinkhole site hasn't revealed any movement since the sinkhole appeared, the PPUC said.
Officials from the bureau's Pipeline Safety Division will also be at Sunoco's offices Monday to monitor start-up procedures, PPUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said.
Construction on the 20-inch Mariner East 2 pipeline includes an open trench excavation. The plan to continue with that project is under review.
Construction of the multi-billion dollar pipelines has been fraught from the beginning. Since their inception, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued more than 80 violation notices to Sunoco and collected more than $13 million in penalties, according to Gov. Tom Wolf's office. This included enforcing a one-month shutdown and setting guidelines to alert nearby public and private water suppliers prior to pipeline construction.
Despite these efforts, accidents continued to happen.
In December of 2018, an investigation focusing on the past and future construction of the three pipelines began. Seth Weber, a former federal prosecutor who served for 26 years as Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is the special prosecutor overseeing the investigation.
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Potential charges could include causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, environmental crimes and corrupt organizations, according to Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.