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Chester County District Attorney will “use all of the tools of the criminal justice system” to ensure public safety

This week brought some more bombshell news in the multi-year drama that has been Energy Transfer’s attempt to metaphorically and physically bulldoze Pennsylvania’s communities and waterways so it can pipe hyper-volatile fracked liquids from the Marcellus shale to the coast, load them onto mega-tankers dubbed “dragonships”, and haul them off to Europe to be manufactured into single-use plastics. I know, that last sentence was a handful, but the situation has been and continues to be as absurd as it sounds.

Before I get to this week’s juicy news, let’s just start with some of the basic facts. Since construction of Energy Transfer’s Mariner East 2 and 2x pipelines began in early 2017, the project has spilled hazardous drilling fluids over 200 times (racking up 92 violations in the process), permanently polluted over a dozen families’ water wells, and caused dangerous sinkholes in a suburban neighborhood. In the meantime, Energy Transfer put another gas line into service in Pennsylvania that violently exploded only weeks into its existence. The company’s environmental record has been so abysmal that recent headlines claim that Energy Transfer’s pipelines “threaten industry growth.”

And we cannot forget to mention the surveillance, harassment, and legal bullying of pipeline opponents that, in one of the cruelest injustices of this period, landed grandmother and landowner Ellen Sue Gerhart in jail for two months.

One might think that by now, the State of Pennsylvania would have taken bold action to stop the cascade of harm being caused by Energy Transfer to the Commonwealth’s land, waters, and people.

But other than issuing violations and fines, the Pennsylvania State Government has done nothing to significantly protect the state’s residents. That’s exactly why on Wednesday, the Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan launched a criminal investigation into Energy Transfer and the Mariner East pipelines.

Hogan’s press statement says it all:

“We expected the state regulators and the governor to step in and assure the safety of Pennsylvanians. They have not.”

Citing Energy Transfer’s construction record, the District Attorney went on to describe the full nature of the investigation, which could lead to charges including “causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, environmental crimes, and corrupt organizations,” with potential defendants including “individual employees involved, from workers on the pipelines through corporate officers.”

It is not yet clear what the investigation will yield; county prosecutors certainly have their work cut out for them. With so much misconduct, so many spills, and so many impacted Pennsylvanians, there is no shortage of issues to examine. “This investigation will not be easy,” writes Hogan. “But we are committed to protecting Chester County. And we will need our citizens to help.”

It is encouraging to see local prosecutors take Energy Transfer’s gross misconduct seriously. From all of us who have been following this company’s trail of destruction in recent years, we can hope that others will follow Chester County’s leadership and have the courage to protect the public and stand up to the corporate bully. As Hogan’s press release poignantly concluded, “money should not be allowed to trump safety.”

Are you an impacted resident? Do you have a tip that could help the Chester County investigation? Anybody with information should contact the lead investigator on the case, Chester County Detective Ben Martin at 610-344-6866.

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