Pennsylvania Ag Reschedules Pipeline Probe Announcement

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's attorney general abruptly postponed a news conference Monday at which he was apparently poised to announce criminal charges against the developer of a major pipeline network that transports natural gas liquids across southern Pennsylvania.

The planned announcement by Attorney General Josh Shapiro was rescheduled for Tuesday morning. It was unclear what caused the delay, though his office said it had received “new information” on the case that required review.

Shapiro had first planned to hold the long-anticipated event on Monday morning at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, where Sunoco Pipeline LP spilled more than 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid last year. The spill, during construction of the troubled Mariner East 2 pipeline, fouled wetlands, a stream and part of a 535-acre lake.

Shapiro's office had billed it as a “major environmental crimes case," and a YouTube page set up to carry the announcement was headlined “AG Shapiro Charges Mariner East Developer With Environmental Crimes.” But the page was quickly yanked down, and the state's top prosecutor postponed the news conference a little more than 20 minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

The August 2020 spill at Marsh Creek was among a series of incidents that has plagued Mariner East since construction began in 2017, making it one of the most penalized projects in state history.

The company has paid more than $16.4 million in fines for polluting waterways and drinking water wells, including a $12.6 million fine in 2018 that was one of the largest ever imposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection. State regulators have periodically shut down construction.

But environmental activists and homeowners who assert their water has been fouled say that fines and periodic shutdown orders have not forced Sunoco to clean up its act. They have been demanding revocation of Mariner East's permits.

When Mariner East construction permits were approved in 2017, environmental advocacy groups accused the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf of violating the law and warned pipeline construction would unleash massive and irreparable damage to Pennsylvania’s environment and residents. At least two criminal investigations were launched into Mariner East.

Shapiro’s office said it had received “new information” on Monday morning ahead of the planned news conference, adding: “We must do our due diligence and review. We will have more to say on this shortly.”

The statement did not elaborate, and Shapiro’s spokesperson had nothing more to add. Messages seeking comment were sent to Sunoco and its owner, Dallas-based pipeline giant Energy Transfer.

Late Monday night, Shapiro’s office said the news conference was back on.

The Mariner East pipeline system transports propane, ethane and butane from the enormous Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale gas fields in western Pennsylvania to a refinery processing center and export terminal in Marcus Hook, outside Philadelphia.

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Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania.