Chesco DA: Mariner East owners used ‘hired guns’ to hide new sinkholes

A new sinkhole in West Whiteland Township, Pa., appeared on Jan. 20, and was promptly guarded by private security identifying themselves as law enforcement, Chesco DA Tom Hogan says. (Courtesy of Chesco DA)

Chester County DA Tom Hogan’s conflict with Energy Transfer LP, Sunoco and the other corporate entities who own the Mariner East pipelines took yet another turn over the weekend.

Not only did new sinkholes appear, exposing the Mariner East 1 pipeline and deepening residents’ concerns about public safety, Hogan announced Tuesday, but he also claimed that his staff found a “private security force” — who later allegedly admitted to working for Sunoco — falsely presenting themselves as local law enforcement and flashing badges at citizens who approached the pipeline, warning them to stay away.

“We want to know who hired these constables and authorized them to act like they have some type of legal authority in Chester County,” Hogan said in a statement. “This has the appearance of hired muscle showing up to intimidate our citizens.”

Hogan, who late last year announced a criminal investigation into alleged dangers posed in Chester County by the Mariner East pipeline — despite it being vetted and approved by all state regulatory authorities — said that on Jan. 20, after receiving reports of a new sinkhole, his office encountered armed pipeline employees falsely presenting themselves as law enforcement and guarding the area of the sinkhole.

Hogan’s office said they had received reports from the public of armed constables guarding the pipelines, but thought it was a mistake. That changed after a plainclothes Chester County detective went to the scene of the latest reported sinkhole on Jan. 20 in the Lisa Drive neighborhood of West Whiteland Township. There, the detective was reportedly confronted by an armed man with a badge who identified himself as a constable.

“The detective, who is familiar with all of the Chester County constables, asked the armed man who he worked for,” a Chesco DA’s office report stated. “The man then finally identified himself as a constable from Northumberland County in Central Pennsylvania. When pressed further by the detective, the man admitted that he had been hired as security by Sunoco.”

The individual in question was not permitted to claim official authority in Chester County or use his badge under false auspices, the DA’s office said.

Energy Transfer LP, which operates the Mariner East pipelines, said the security in the area was requested by local property owners.

“We have engaged security on Lisa Drive at the request of the impacted homeowners to restrict access to their property as they were concerned not only with protecting their privacy, but the possibility of people trespassing on their property,” a spokeswoman said via email. “I will decline to discuss any further details of our security efforts, beyond that we do use security on our projects as needed to ensure the safety of our employees, our assets and those who live in the area.”

The sinkholes in question (pictured above) reportedly exposed the Mariner East 1 pipeline and was in a neighborhood that has reportedly experienced multiple sinkholes, including some that damaged homeowners’ properties and caused an evacuation.

(Coincidentally and unconnected to the Mariner East, an Enbridge pipeline in Noble County, Ohio did explode on Jan. 21, sending flames 80 to 200 feet high and destroying at least two homes.)

Map of Mariner East pipeline

A diagram of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. (Courtesy of PA DEP)

Mariner East safety concerns

Energy Transfer has previously been harshly critical of Hogan’s investigation and allegations.

“Energy Transfer has not engaged in any form of criminal activity,” a company spokeswoman said after Hogan previously blasted a pipeline union worker for allegedly cyberbullying Chesco residents, “and the issues referenced by the district attorney that have arisen in Chester County related to the pipeline have already each been thoroughly investigated, reviewed, and ultimately resolved by the appropriate government agencies that are actually tasked with environmental safety and oversight, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Utility Commission.”

Hogan announced his investigation in December 2018, saying it may lead to charges of causing or risking a catastrophe, based on his allegations the pipelines had caused sinkholes, fouled well water, and concerns about an explosion in fire in Western Pa.’s Beaver County.

“Sinkholes. Fouled well water. Obscene messages from out-of-state pipeline workers to Chester County residents. Hired guns flashing badges. Volatile natural gas liquids flowing in pipelines just a few feet from schools and homes,” Hogan listed. “We are not sure what it will take to get the attention of Gov. [Tom] Wolf and the Public Utility Commission. All of this is happening on our watch. The Chester County District Attorney’s Office is committed to this criminal investigation, even if we must fight alone. The citizens of Chester County deserve our protection.”

The three Mariner East pipelines transport liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields in western Pennsylvania to customers in the state and elsewhere, including international exports. The Mariner East 2 350-mile natural gas liquid pipeline went into service on Jan. 3.

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