FBI Investigating Approvals of Mariner East Pipeline by State of Penna.

by Duane Nichols on November 13, 2019

Mariner East pipeline to transport ethane from OH, WV, & PA across PA to the Delaware River for export to Europe

FBI eyes how Pennsylvania approved Mariner East pipeline

From an Article by Marc Levy, Associated Press Exclusive News, November 12, 2019

PHOTO — In this Oct. 22 photo, pipes lay along a construction site on the Mariner East pipeline in a residential neighborhood in Exton, Pa. The 350-mile (560-kilometer) pipeline route traverses those suburbs, close to schools, ballfields and senior care facilities. The spread of drilling, compressor stations and pipelines has changed neighborhoods — and opinions. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG — The FBI has begun a corruption investigation into how Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration came to issue permits for construction on a multibillion-dollar pipeline project to carry highly volatile natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania, The Associated Press has learned.

FBI agents have interviewed current or former state employees in recent weeks about the Mariner East project and the construction permits, according to three people who have direct knowledge of the agents’ line of questioning.

The focus of the agents’ questions involves the permitting of the pipeline, whether Wolf and his administration forced environmental protection staff to approve construction permits and whether Wolf or his administration received anything in return, those people say.

The Mariner East pipelines are owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer LP, a multibillion-dollar firm that owns sprawling interests in oil and gas pipelines and storage and processing facilities. At a price tag of nearly $3 billion, it is one of the largest construction projects, if not the largest, in Pennsylvania history.

However, the construction has spurred millions of dollars in fines, several temporary shutdown orders, lawsuits, protests and investigations. When construction permits were approved in 2017, environmental advocacy groups accused Wolf’s administration of pushing through incomplete permits that violated the law.

Wolf’s administration declined comment on the investigation Tuesday. In the past, Wolf and his administration have said the permits contained strong environmental protections and that the Department of Environmental Protection wasn’t forced to issue the permits.

The Mariner East project, along with the overhaul of the Marcus Hook refinery and export terminal near Philadelphia, have had the support of leading public officials and business trade groups.

Wolf himself has said that the pipeline’s economic benefits would outweigh the potential environmental harm, and that the Mariner East would be part of a distribution system that the industry needed.

The state’s building trades unions have seen a huge influx of work on the Mariner East pipelines and Marcus Hook. Exploration firms drilling in the booming Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale fields shipping natural gas liquids through Mariner East pipelines and Marcus Hook have helped the U.S. become the world’s leading ethane exporter.

The roughly 300-mile Mariner East 1 was originally built in the 1930s to transport gasoline westward from Marcus Hook. It was renovated and, in 2014, began carrying natural gas liquids eastward to the refinery from southwestern Pennsylvania’s drilling fields.

Construction permit applications were submitted in 2015 for two wider pipelines, the 350-mile-long Mariner East 2 and 2x, designed for the same purpose, but stretching farther, through West Virginia’s northern panhandle and into Ohio.

Both were projected to be open in 2017. But Mariner East 2 began operating in late December, and Mariner East 2X could be complete in 2020.

The pipelines run past houses, parks and schools in southeastern Pennsylvania, and have been met with protests by alarmed neighbors worried that one leak could ignite a deadly explosion. Sinkholes along the pipelines’ route have opened on lawns and construction has contaminated streams and private water wells.

Food & Water Action Pennsylvania Director Sam Bernhardt released the following statement after the story was published:

“Whether it is provided by the federal judicial system, county District Attorneys, or Governor Wolf himself, justice for communities harmed by Energy Transfer and their Mariner East pipeline means shutting this pipeline down for good.,” he wrote. “The Wolf administration fast-tracked this dangerous, disastrous project, putting communities across the Commonwealth at risk. We have seen sinkholes, spills and water contamination, and a grassroots opposition movement has pushed his administration to stop the project before further disasters strike. Governor Wolf has refused.”

Meanwhile, county and state prosecutors are investigating the pipeline. Chester County’s district attorney, Tom Hogan, opened an investigation last December. In March, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, said his office had opened an investigation on a referral from Delaware County’s district attorney. His office already had an environmental crimes investigation under way into the natural gas industry.

Wolf’s administration also has had run-ins with Energy Transfer in which it accused the company of willfully violating state law.

Still, when the Department of Environmental Protection issued the permits, environmental advocacy groups warned that it would unleash massive and irreparable damage to Pennsylvania’s environment and residents. In general, the permits are required to protect waterways and wetlands from pollution, runoff and obstruction stemming from heavy construction.

Within hours, the Clean Air Council and other environmental advocacy organizations appealed the permits, saying the DEP had approved incomplete and inaccurate permit applications that violated the law “in response to heavy and sustained political pressure.”

At the time, Wolf denied applying pressure to approve the pipeline permits. Rather, he said he had simply insisted the department stick to its own timeline to consider them and that he believed the department had done its due diligence.

The environmental groups’ request to halt construction was denied, but they did win additional protective steps in a settlement.

In depositions and internal documents that became exhibits in the appeal, department employees said the schedule to consider the applications had been sped up, but none said they had been forced to approve permits over their objections.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Duane Nichols November 13, 2019 at 6:17 pm

Gov. Wolf has been unusually pro-industry on this set of pipelines in spite of substantial concern for the health and safety of entire neighborhoods.

In my opinion, the United States should not be exporting thousands or millions of tons of ethane and LNG without substantial severence taxes (at the state level) AND export fees by the federal government. Two big reasons, our natural resources are unnecessarily being depleted for private gain AND these “fossil fuels” add directly to our global climate change problems.

See also: http://www.FrackCheckWV.net

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Jon Delano November 14, 2019 at 1:30 am

Lt. Gov. Fetterman Defends Gov. Tom Wolf’s Ethics In Pipeline Investigation

By Jon Delano, CBS, News 2 (KDKA), November 13, 2019

PITTSBURGH (KDKA)– The FBI is reportedly investigating whether Governor Wolf’s administration improperly issued building permits for the Mariner East Pipeline.

Environmental groups say the administration pushed through incomplete permits in violation of the law.

“I can say without a doubt that his integrity and his standards and ethics are of the highest order,” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

Fetterman was the keynote speaker in Pittsburgh at the recognition luncheon of the Northside Community Development Fund.

Fetterman reacted to an Associated Press report that the FBI is investigating Wolf and his administration’s handling of permits for a $3 billion pipeline project across the state. “Reasonable people can agree or disagree on whether there should have been a pipeline, but I don’t have any doubts that Governor Wolf has always maintained the highest ethical standards.”

Based on anonymous sources, the AP says the FBI is questioning current and former state employees about the permitting process for the Mariners East Pipeline. That pipeline will carry natural gas liquids from the Marcellus shale fields in this region to an overseas export terminal near Philadelphia.

Wolf supports the project, which is opposed by some environmentalists who accuse the governor of pushing it with incomplete permits.

The FBI, says the AP, is investigating whether anyone in the Wolf administration forced permit approvals or took anything in exchange.

Delano: “You’re saying you don’t think the governor took anything?”

Fetterman: “I’m saying I know the governor didn’t take anything. This is a guy that if he’s offered a bottle of water at an event, he’ll hand you a dollar bill and say, ‘Thank you, but I can’t even accept a bottle of water.’”

Fetterman says this governor has enacted the strictest code of ethics ever. The governor’s office had no comment, but Fetterman says the inquiry is welcomed.

https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2019/11/13/lt-gov-fetterman-defends-gov-wolf-ethics-pipeline-investigation/

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Douglas Shields November 14, 2019 at 2:19 am

Douglas A. Shields, FACEBOOK, November 13, 2019

Fact checking Gov. Tom Wolf’s KDKA radio interview on cracker plants and natural gas

Two weeks ago, following statements against future development of cracker plants made by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald went on KDKA radio and gave an interview full of boosterism for natural-gas drilling, aka fracking, and of potential future cracker plants.

Petrochemical plants, aka cracker plants, refine natural gas into plastic pellets. The region’s first cracker plant is currently being constructed in Beaver County by oil giant Shell, which will likely be fueled by natural gas fracked in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region.

Yesterday, Gov. Tom Wolf (D-York) followed suit during an appearance on Larry Richert and John Shumway’s show, talking about the future cracker plants and his support for the petrochemical and natural gas industries.

Wolf claimed in the roughly six-minute interview that cracker plants and continuation of the natural gas industry would be a net good for the environment, and disagreed with Peduto’s denouncement of the petrochemical industry.

City Paper has identified three major claims made by Wolf and has fact-checked them to determine their accuracy.

Claim 1: Lightweight plastics created at cracker plants will be part of a sustainable future

Wolf said that lightweight plastic products that will be produced from plastic pellets made at cracker plants will be part of an “energy sustainable future” and will supply materials for light-weight vehicles.

When asked to elaborate, Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott wrote to CP that Wolf “was pointing to the fact that lightweight plastics have been helpful in improving fuel economy in vehicles and reducing the energy intensity of other products because they help reduce weight when replacing other heavier materials. This reduction of weight helps improve gas mileage and can reduce the energy required for shipping.”

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a 10 percent reduction in vehicle weight can result in a 6-8 percent fuel economy improvement and that vehicle chassis can be reduced in weight due to a combination of “lightweight materials such as high-strength steel, magnesium (Mg) alloys, aluminum (Al) alloys, carbon fiber, and polymer composites.”

Plastics would only provide some of that reduction and a 2012 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that utilizing special plastics resulted in reducing a vehicle’s weight by 19 percent. This would result in about a 13 percent increase in fuel economy.

According to the United Nations, global greenhouse gas emissions need to drop by 55 percent by 2030 in order to keep the possibility of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Even as cars have become more fuel-efficient over the years (the EPA says American cars have increased average fuel efficiency by about 24 percent since 2005) and CO2 emissions per vehicle have also dropped over the same time span, overall greenhouse emissions from transportation have been slowly increasing since 2012. This is likely being driven by the fact that more Americans are driving each year.

Wolf didn’t mention if and/or how the cracker plant or fracking industry will help reduce driving rates in Pennsylvania or the Pittsburgh area. Coincidentally, a new toll road, the Southern Beltway, is currently being constructed and will create another vehicle route running along Southern Allegheny County, connecting the Parkway West to the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the east.

Claim 2: The cracker plant will help Pittsburgh get cleaner air and water

The topic of electricity generation was brought up to Wolf when the interviewer falsely claimed most of our electricity is generated from coal. The biggest share of Pennsylvania’s electricity is generated from natural gas, followed closely by nuclear power, and coal is a distant third. In the U.S., natural gas is the biggest contributor to electricity generation, with coal second, but falling fast.

Regardless, Wolf said, “We all want clean air and clean water and we have to ask what is the best way to get there? What is coming out of the cracker plant is part of that energy-efficient future.”

The Beaver County cracker plant has been permitted to emit 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of adding more than 480,000 cars to the region. According to census figures, about 969,000 people in the Pittsburgh region commute to work by car, truck, or van.

Adding 2.2 million tons of CO2 emissions will be the equivalent of increasing the number of car commuters by about 50 percent. Pittsburgh already has some of the worst air quality of any large U.S. metro area.

Fracking, which would have to continue in the region to fuel cracker plants, has links to water contamination. A 2016 study in Environmental Science and Technology suggests that wells and groundwater in Wyoming were contaminated by fracking.
According to the Penn Capital-Star, “No studies have shown a definitive cause and effect relationship between the industrial process and health risks.”

However, studies have shown that proximity to fracking wells has led to respiratory issues and low birth weights of infants. Local environmentalists have also decried a rare string of cancer cases in Washington County, which is home the most fracking wells in the region.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans contains more than 150 oil and petrochemical facilities, and this area is home to seven of the 10 census tracts with the highest cancer risk in the nation.

The governor’s office did not specifically respond to requests about this claim.

Claim 3: Banning fracking won’t help the transition to renewable energy

When asked for his thoughts on some Democratic presidential candidates wanting to ban fracking, Wolf downplayed those calls. He claimed that banning fracking wouldn’t benefit a transition to renewable energy.

“We need to get to that solar future, that wind future, as quickly as possible,” said Wolf. “How do we do that? It’s not by banning fracking.”

However, natural gas is a direct competitor of renewables in the energy market. The idea that natural gas is a bridge between dirtier coal and cleaner renewables is a common talking point of natural gas boosters.

But, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the energy market for generating electricity in the United States is made up of five main players: coal, hydropower, natural gas, nonhydro renewables (wind, solar), and nuclear. Coal has been rapidly dropping over the years, as nonhydro renewables have been surging. Natural gas has also been growing, with nuclear and hydropower remaining steady.

Eventually, as coal continued to decline (a coal-fired power plant recently shut down in Beaver County), the market share of growing players will create a direct competition of natural gas and nonhydro renewables. They could both even out, and then share the market evenly, but there are signs that renewables are starting to beat natural gas.

Oklahoma’s natural gas industry saw significant growth in the early 2000s, but it started to level off around 2012. Since then, the Sooner State has seen an explosion of wind power, which has grown faster than even the most productive time of Oklahoma’s fracking boom from 2000-2006.

Mark Yates of pro-renewable Advanced Power Alliance, told The Oklahomanin June that wind and solar projects are likely to continue in Oklahoma.

“A lot of the studies we’ve seen now show that even without subsidies at the federal or state level, we’re seeing levelized costs come down to the point where depending on where you are in the nation, solar and wind are even more competitive than cheap natural gas,” Yates said.

In Pennsylvania, electricity generated by natural gas has more than doubled since 2010 and coal-powered electricity has plummeted. Nuclear is still a big generator, but as of June, more than 47 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity was generated by natural gas and nuclear had declined to about 32 percent.

Coal was only 17 percent and the remaining 3 percent were renewables.

Natural gas growth appears to be driven by the state’s large reserves in the Marcellus Shale basin. Pennsylvania’s natural gas production reached about 6.2 trillion cubic feet in 2018, which is almost 11 times larger than it was in 2010. The state has also become a large exporter of natural gas.

According to the EIA, Appalachian Mountain crests like those in the southwest and northeast, as well as areas along the state’s Lake Erie shoreline, have wind resources suitable for commercial power production. There are about 16 wind power plants located throughout southwestern and central Pennsylvania. There are a handful more in the Northeast, but none located along the Lake Erie shoreline.

A recent study from the Rocky Mountain Institute, predicts that renewables will overtake natural gas as the country’s biggest electricity producer by 2035. An oil-and-gas trade publication has questioned the boldness of those claims but still recognizes that the natural gas industry is taking several steps to improve efficiency in order to remain competitive.

https://www.pghcitypaper.com/…/fact-checking-gov-t…/Content…

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