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Thursday August 11th, 2022 10:42PM

Pipeline developer pleads no contest in Pa. pollution cases

By The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — 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.

A judge heard and approved the plea at a hearing in Harrisburg on Friday.

The company’s Mariner East 1, Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X pipelines are designed to 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 have halted construction over environmental contamination.

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

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat running for governor in the November election, planned a news conference Friday afternoon. An email was sent to Energy Transfer seeking comment on the plea deal.

Residents who live near the pipeline and some state lawmakers have said Mariner East should be shut down entirely in light of the criminal charges, but the administration of outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has long ignored such calls to pull the plug.

Friday's plea deal also resolves a separate criminal case involving the Revolution pipeline, a 42-mile pipeline near Pittsburgh that runs from Butler County to a natural gas processing plant in Washington County. In that case, prosecutors alleged Energy Transfer's negligence led to a 2018 gas explosion and fire that destroyed a home, a barn and several cars, collapsed six high-voltage transmission towers and prompted an evacuation.

Energy Transfer pleaded no contest to 14 criminal counts in the Mariner East case and to nine criminal counts in the Revolution case.

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