As he launches his campaign for governor, Attorney General Josh Shapiro has already shown one major area where he is eager to make a break from Tom Wolf’s legacy: Ending the Mariner East pipeline debacle before it does any more damage to the people and the water of Pennsylvania.
Last month, Shapiro stood in front of Marsh Creek Lake, one of the most infamous sites of Energy Transfer’s construction negligence and announced 48 criminal charges against the fossil fuel company, all the result of a lengthy grand jury investigation into the horizontal drilling techniques employed all across the Mariner East project.
The report came as a relief to many of the communities that have suffered years of abuse – including my own. We know firsthand what Energy Transfer has done to our neighborhoods, our quality of life and to some of our state’s environmental treasures. What we need is someone in power to do something about it; if Shapiro is ready to lay out a clear plan for stopping the Mariner East pipeline, many residents would be relieved to hear it.
Shapiro’s announcement was especially welcome news when compared to Gov. Tom Wolf’s tepid response to Energy Transfer’s years of misdeeds. Over the past four years, Energy Transfer contaminated drinking water, created dangerous sinkholes and intimidated the communities across the state. Their end goal was to complete a 350-mile project so dangerous it should have never been approved in the first place. But permits were rushed along by the Wolf administration which has been, at best, willfully blind to the company’s misdeeds.
The truth about Mariner East is that as bad it looks to those of us close to the ground, the overall damage caused by Energy Transfer is much worse. As the grandy jury investigation championed by Attorney General Shapiro notes, it only documented a small portion of the pipeline construction. In other words, there were far more locations where horizontal drilling was likely causing water contamination and destroying private wells, and it’s very likely that Energy Transfer was failing to report these incidents to state regulators, since they overwhelmingly failed to report other spills when they happened.
This all only further tarnishes the Wolf administration’s environmental legacy; and considering that his approval of the pipeline was reportedly under investigation by the FBI, that’s saying quite a bit. Even Shapiro, who is one of Gov. Wolf’s closest allies in Harrisburg, had to admit that Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has “at times failed” to protect Pennsylvanians.
However, simply outperforming Wolf is a low bar. Given this grand jury investigation – along with a previous one that took a deeper look at the harms of fracking – Shapiro will be held to a much higher standard. Indeed, many of us who have been forced to live with Energy Transfer as a bad neighbor were disappointed by Shapiro’s failure to produce any charges against specific individuals.
Unless that changes, it is likely that no one will be held responsible for the damage that was done. Instead, Energy Transfer will wind up paying fines, which Shapiro admitted at his press conference are a pittance for a large corporation.
Shapiro grabbed the spotlight when he unveiled the criminal charges against Energy Transfer, but the larger question still lurks: What will come of the company’s pipeline?
Shapiro is well within his rights as attorney general to join the dozens of local and state elected officials who have called for Mariner East to be stopped. Now, as a gubernatorial candidate, he has the responsibility to spell out how he intends to run DEP and hold polluters accountable. This includes not only laying out general policies for how future disasters are to be averted, but also stating clearly how he intends to deal with a Mariner East pipeline that is near completion.
As Shapiro’s report lays out in detail, Energy Transfer has violated Pennsylvania laws since almost day one of construction. It is simply inconceivable that this project will be safe from leaks or explosions once it is fully operational. Energy Transfer has shown that it cannot be trusted. Shapiro must work from his own report and stop the Mariner East pipeline.
Ginny Marcille-Kerslake is an organizer with the group Food & Water Action and has been a leader in the fight against Mariner East in West Whiteland Township.