Pipeline developer pleads no contest in pollution cases

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — The developer of a major pipeline system that connects the Marcellus Shale gas field in western Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia pleaded no contest Friday to criminal charges that it systematically polluted waterways and residential water wells across hundreds of miles.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Operating agreed to independent testing of homeowners’ water and promised to remediate contamination in a settlement of two separate criminal cases brought by the Pennsylvania attorney general. Under a plea deal, the company will also pay $10 million to restore watersheds and streams along the route of its Mariner East pipeline network.

“We are holding Energy Transfer accountable for their crimes against our natural resources,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference after the hearing in Harrisburg.

An email was sent to Energy Transfer seeking comment.

The company’s Mariner East 1, Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X pipelines carry propane, ethane and butane from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas fields to a refinery processing center and export terminal in Marcus Hook, a suburb of Philadelphia. Construction wrapped in February.

Mariner East has been one of the most penalized projects in state history. The owner has racked up tens of millions of dollars in civil penalties, and state regulators repeatedly halted construction over contamination.

The attorney general stepped in last October, charging Energy Transfer with releasing industrial waste at 22 sites in 11 counties and failing to report spills to regulators. The company fouled the drinking water of at least 150 families, prosecutors have said.

Under the plea agreement, residents who live near the pipeline and have private water can request independent testing. More than 800 residents along the pipelines’ route have been notified of the testing, and residents have until Aug. 19 to sign up.

Residents were wary of the plea deal, given their fraught history with Sunoco Pipeline LP, the Energy Transfer subsidiary that operates Mariner East.

“I’m hopeful, but knowing Sunoco’s track record, I am skeptical,” said Karen Katz, of Edgmont Township in Delaware County. She said Sunoco strong-armed residents into signing agreements to allow the pipeline, tore up the neighborhood during construction, and fouled the aquifer. She said she still does not drink her well water.

“How do you take contaminated aquifers and un-contaminate them?…

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