Members of Delaware County Council and the Chester County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Dennis Davin, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to address concerns of the operations of the Mariner East Pipeline during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter dated April 13, 2020, the elected officials of Chester and Delaware Counties address specific concerns of operations of the Mariner East Pipeline during the current public health crisis arising from the COVID-19 virus.
Delaware County and Chester County officials have received multiple complaints from residents who have observed pipeline workers not obeying social-distancing rules, not just in the performance of their work, but also in the informal activities on and around the worksite. Residents have sent photographs of pipeline workers closely congregating, traveling in common vehicles and not wearing masks.
“We are concerned that, if the non-compliant behavior of the Energy Transfer workers triggers a COVID-19 hot spot, the burden on our health care system would impose a risk to our entire community,” the letter states.
The failure of Energy Transfer workers to conform to the Governor’s mandates regarding social distancing, mask-wearing, hand washing, and other critical behaviors, could add more patients to local hospitals’ caseloads. The continued work on the pipeline by its very nature poses an indisputable risk of an industrial accident, which also would strain the local health care infrastructure.
Delaware County and Chester County officials stated in the letter, “During the current public health crisis, when our residents are staying home to achieve the common good, no special exemption should be provided to Energy Transfer in its construction of the Pipeline. This project, and its owners and investors, should share in the general sacrifice, and receive no special treatment.”
On March 19, 2020, Governor Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations. Life-sustaining businesses were permitted to remain open, but they must follow, at a minimum, the social distancing practices and other mitigation measures defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to protect workers and patrons. On March 20, 2020, Energy Transfer wrote to Governor Wolf, confirming that it would suspend construction of the Pipeline and related projects, in conformity with the Emergency Order.
Energy Transfer applied to the Governor directly for a waiver, notwithstanding very clear instructions that waivers should be sought via application to the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). Energy Transfer assured the Governor that its employees and contractors would follow CDC and OSHA guidelines, and “would take all possible precautions to protect personal and public health and safety while working within the project right-of-way,” including but not limited to implementing social distancing practices, hygiene and infection control practices, and using personal protective equipment. Energy Transfer was promptly granted the six waivers from the Emergency Order that permitted it to continue work on the Pipeline at seventeen locations across Pennsylvania.
In the letter, members of Delaware County Council and the Chester County Board of Commissioners requested that the DCED adopt the well-reasoned approach of the Clean Air Council and revise the exemptions granted to Energy Transfer to only those aspects of the Pipeline work that are absolutely necessary for public safety, and halt all other work as a threat to public health given the present pandemic.