Environmental advocacy groups are trying to halt construction of a $2.5 billion natural gas liquids pipeline across southern Pennsylvania while they appeal newly issued permits that they say would unleash massive and irreparable damage to the state's environment and residents.
In filings Monday night, three groups said the state Department of Environmental Protection had approved incomplete and legally flawed permit applications for Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East 2 pipeline hours earlier "in response to heavy and sustained political pressure."
Supporters view the project as crucial to helping capitalize on the prolific Marcellus Shale natural gas reservoir, where producers complain that a lack of pipeline infrastructure is depressing prices and demand.
The permits approved water crossings and earth moving for a 306-mile section of 20-inch pipeline that can move 275,000 barrels per day, according to Sunoco Logistics.
The project is designed to move propane, butane and possibly ethane east from Marcellus Shale producers in southwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia to Sunoco Logistics' Marcus Hook processing and distribution facility near Philadelphia.
It has the support of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature, business groups and labor unions.
According to the environmental advocacy groups, construction would deforest more than 1,500 acres, cross hundreds of streams and wetlands and damage farmland and aquifers that provide drinking water.
The Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Mountain Watershed Association did not elaborate on the political pressure in the filings to a state board that hears appeals of the department's actions. A hearing was scheduled for Thursday.
In an interview Tuesday, Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said it was clear from the groups' reviews of documents in the case, meetings and conversations that Wolf's office and the department's central office were pressuring inspectors to stop asking detailed questions and wrap up.
"Governor Wolf wants to see these pipelines rushed out the door to make sure they happen," van Rossum said.
Wolf said Tuesday that he had not applied pressure to approve the pipeline project. He said he had only asked the department to stick to the timeline that it said it had needed to review the permit applications.
"That's not political pressure, that's actually trying to manage an organization," said Wolf, who had had the support of environmental advocacy groups in his 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
Wolf said he was convinced that the department had done its due diligence, and that the pipeline would ultimately have a net benefit, despite the potential environmental impact.
"The net benefit of having jobs, the net benefit of having clean sources of energy with gas is big for Pennsylvania," Wolf said.
He also echoed industry officials, pointing out that prices at one of the major trading hubs for Marcellus Shale gas remain below prices at other big hubs.
"We need a distribution system and this is part of it," he said.