‘Hired Guns Flashing Badges' Improperly Protected Pipeline Sinkhole in Chester County, District Attorney Says

The local prosecutor accused Sunoco of hiring armed security to protect the scene of a sinkhole along one of its controversial pipelines in Chester County, west of Philadelphia.

What to Know

  • Police in Chester County responded Jan. 20 and found a sinkhole five feet by 10 feet. The sinkhole, they said, was from a drainage failure.
  • The Mariner East 1, 2 and 2X pipelines have sparked outrage, controversy and a criminal investigation over the past two years.
  • Mariner East 1 is decades old. East 2 and 2X are being built to take natural gas from a refinery in Delaware County to western Pennsylvania.

Construction of a new gas pipeline through Chester County, Pennsylvania, has been a contentious issue for years, but a sinkhole that appeared along a decades-old line nearby added a bizarre twist over the weekend.

An armed constable from central Pennsylvania, 100 miles from the Philadelphia suburbs, flashed a badge at an actual local detective Sunday when the investigator arrived to look into residents' complaints of the sinkhole, according to the Chester County district attorney.

"When a Chester County Detective in plain clothes approached the scene, an armed man flashed a badge at the Detective and identified himself as a constable," District Attorney Tom Hogan said in a letter released Tuesday. "The Detective, who is familiar with all of the Chester County constables, asked the armed man who he worked for. The man then finally identified himself as a constable from Northumberland County in central Pennsylvania. When pressed further by the Detective, the man admitted that he had been hired as security by Sunoco."

Hogan said he is reaching out to his counterpart in Northumberland County to get to the bottom of what he called "hired guns flashing badges."

A message left for Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz was not immediately returned.

An out-of-town armed guard acting in a law enforcement capacity is the latest twist in a years-long dispute over pipeline construction through rural enclaves west of Philadelphia. The pipelines are owned by Sunoco and Energy Transfer.

The sinkhole formed along the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which is a decades-old conduit for natural gas liquids. The Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines remain incomplete, but will eventually funnel the gas products to the Marcus Hook refinery in Delaware County from western Pennsylvania.

In December, Hogan opened a criminal investigation into the current pipeline construction. 

Potential charges could include causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, environmental crimes and corrupt organizations, Hogan said.

In his letter, Hogan alluded to ongoing problems between residents and Sunoco, which is a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer. And he said his office will continue the criminal investigation, with or without the help of state public utilities officials' help.

"Sinkholes. Fouled well water. Obscene messages from out-of-state pipeline workers to Chester County residents. Hired guns flashing badges. Volatile natural gas liquids flowing in pipelines just a few feet from schools and homes. We are not sure what it will take to get the attention of Governor Wolf and the Public Utility Commission," he wrote in the letter. "All of this is happening on their watch. The Chester County District Attorney's Office is committed to this criminal investigation, even if we must fight alone."

Security in the area of the sinkhole in West Whiteland Township was requested by homeowners, according to Energy Transfer.

"We have engaged security on Lisa Drive at the request of the impacted homeowners to restrict access to their property as they were concerned not only with protecting their privacy, but the possibility of people trespassing on their property," company spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said in a statement. "I will decline to discuss any further details of our security efforts, beyond that we do use security on our projects as needed to ensure the safety of our employees, our assets and those who live in the area."

CORRECTION (Jan. 22, 2019 4:10 p.m. ET): This story has been updated to clarify that natural gas liquids flow through the Mariner East 1 pipeline from western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook refinery.

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