Local officials press Sunoco Pipeline to address water problem

Local officials in Chester County have asked Sunoco Pipeline LP to pay for the extension of municipal water service to an enclave of residents whose private wells were impaired last week by the company’s pipeline construction.

The West Whiteland Township Supervisors told residents in a post on the township’s website that it does not have jurisdictional authority over the contamination of water wells that occurred after Sunoco Pipeline began drilling in the area to install its Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The Mariner East 2 pipeline route

But the township said it asked Sunoco to pay to extend Aqua Pennsylvania’s public water system to the homes near Township Line Road, where a dozen families reported their private wells became cloudy or lost pressure after the energy company began drilling nearby.

“We are looking at all possible options,” said Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields. The company provided the residents with bottled water, filtration systems, and hotel accommodations until a long-term solution is found.

The company is conducting horizontal directional drilling near the border of West Whiteland and Uwchlan Townships, where it is installing the second Mariner East pipeline that will carry natural-gas liquids, such as propane, from Marcellus Shale fields to a terminal in Marcus Hook.

Although most of the 350-mile-long pipeline is being built in a trench near the surface, Sunoco is using the horizontal drilling methods to install the pipeline through densely populated areas of Chester and Delaware Counties. The technique involves drilling a bore through bedrock into which a coated-steel pipe is inserted and cemented into place.

Sunoco suspended drilling last week after residents complained about the impaired water wells, but it resumed work on Saturday, after grouting the bore to stabilize the rock to prevent drilling debris from entering the water table.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester) suggested that Sunoco was in a rush to resume drilling before test results from the water wells were released. “Were these tests able to determine if any lasting damage has been done to the aquifer and, if so, what efforts is Sunoco taking to mitigate this damage?” he wrote to company officials in an email on Monday.

Extension of public water service to the homes would be an expensive, permanent solution. But one resident said he was not eager to pay a utility for water he now pumps from the ground for free.

“If I have to hook up to city water, they should have to pay my water bills for the rest of my life,” said Benjamin Eckert, 54, a Valleyview Drive homeowner. “We had a perfectly good well.”

Eckert said his well water has begun to clear up since Sunoco suspended drilling, but he refuses to drink the water until he receives assurances from his own tests that it is safe.

He criticized Sunoco for not notifying residents about the possibility of water contamination after its drilling contractor first encountered the aquifer.

Shields said drillers often penetrate aquifers without impairing neighboring water wells, adding that Sunoco suspended drilling as soon as residents complained.

“It’s not uncommon to get water coming back when you’re drilling, which indicates you’ve hit water somewhere, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to private well issues,” Shields said.