The Safety 7 Case
Seven residents of Delaware and Chester Counties (in Southeastern Pennsylvania) filed a lawsuit with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to halt construction and operations of the dangerous and controversial Mariner East pipelines. The group became known as the Safety 7. They were joined by 3 “pro-se complainants” who represented themselves without an attorney.
Independent technical expertise is critical to challenging Sunoco’s dangerous plan. During the final hearing the Safety Seven brought two engineering experts to the stand. The first expert, Jeff Marx, is a Senior Engineer from Quest Consulting who completed the Citizens' Risk Assessment in 2018. The second was Mehrooz Zamanzadeh Ph.D. Matergenics, who specializes in corrosion and failure analysis. Thomas Sniscak, for Sunoco, attempted to block Dr. Zee's testimony related to Mariner East 1 (ME1) corrosion, the 2017 Morgantown leak on ME1 and Sunoco's failure to follow their own integrity management plan. That motion was denied by Judge Barnes but it indicates how critical our expert testimony is to holding Sunoco accountable. The Safety 7 raised funds through GoFundMe campaigns and other crowdfunding. Hundreds of residents donated to the effort.
In April, the Safety 7 received the ruling in the Safety 7 (officially “Flynn et al.”) lawsuit against Sunoco. In a 212-page opinion, the judge at the Public Utility Commission (PUC) confirmed some of the safety problems raised by the Safety 7 but stopped short of requiring that the Mariner East pipelines be shut down until their safety could be assured. The following is an excerpt from an update the group posted after receiving the ruling.
. . .
While there is some disappointment around the continued operation of the Mariner East pipelines, we are very pleased that Judge Elizabeth Barnes agreed with the Safety 7 on a number of topics, most notable:
Sunoco’s two currently-active pipelines (the 8-inch Mariner East 1 and the 12-inch “workaround” pipeline) are not buried deeply enough in some locations;
The steps first responders might take in the event of leaks need to be re-evaluated;
In its public-awareness program, Sunoco must inform the public that leaks from these lines can cause “property damage, personal injury, burns, asphyxiation, and death” (these specific words must be used by Sunoco moving forward); and
The blast zone from a leak could exceed 2,800 feet (over half a mile), which Sunoco had been unwilling to acknowledge previously.
The judge also fined Sunoco a token $2,000.
Additionally, the Safety 7 case brought to the forefront a number of issues that have the potential for positive long term implications, such as:
Increased public awareness of the unresolved safety issues surrounding the Mariner East project and Sunoco’s lack of attention to safety,
Current limitations of the PUC in enforcing public safety and in regulating pipeline siting, and
The inadequacy of Pennsylvania’s laws and regulatory procedures to protect its citizens and their private property.
As a direct result of this case, the PUC has begun a rulemaking process that will help to clarify what the PUC’s role in these areas should be, and there are also new efforts by Harrisburg lawmakers to tighten the regulations around future pipeline projects.
We remain eternally grateful for the unwavering support and the generosity of this community. We must remember that any action against a corporate giant like Sunoco is a win, and we look forward to the positive changes that this case will bring in ensuring the safety of our communities. We believe our pro-bono attorney, Michael Bomstein, said it best:
"This is my 46th year as a lawyer. I never set out to make a lot of money; I set out to make a difference, even if it was just a small difference in the ultimate scheme of things. That's how I see the arc of history bending; a lot of people doing the right thing together at the same time. All of us, together, have pushed these issues to the forefront."