Imminent Explosions: What the Sunoco Pipeline Means for Pennsylvania

  by Nick Hirschel-Burns and Ananya Bhattacharya

With election day only four days away, Swarthmore students are mobilizing on campus to get out the vote. In the next county over, this election puts on the line thousands of lives and homes: this is Chester County’s chance to stop a dangerous and highly explosive pipeline, the Mariner East 2. Sunoco, the company building this pipeline, has a notorious track record of oil spills, and the pipeline itself runs through densely populated neighborhoods that are often working class and black and brown communities. This pipeline is a disaster for Chester County, for our state, and for our shared climate. This is why Sunrise Swarthmore is standing with the Chester County Townships of Uwchlan and West Goshen in their fight against Sunoco and the billionaires that manage it.

The Mariner East 2 pipeline is a 350-mile natural gas pipeline that would stretch across our state, from eastern Ohio to Delaware County, where we live. The pipeline is extraordinarily dangerous: the liquids it carries are classified as “hazardous, highly volatile liquids,” and if a leak were to occur, these liquids would vaporize into a cloud of highly-explosive gas. Leaks aren’t unlikely: there have been over 4000 pipeline-related accidents since 2010. In the case of Mariner East, ordinary actions which occur thousands of times a day, like turning on a light switch, ringing a doorbell or using a cell phone, can serve as ignition sources, causing an explosion with up to a 1/2 mile blast radius. The pipeline is currently under construction, but it would be nearly impossible for Sunoco to complete the project if the pipeline were prevented from running through Chester County.

The Mariner East 2 passes directly through densely-populated neighborhoods, posing a huge public safety risk. Across the state, it runs through an inordinate number of poor and minority communities, putting them disproportionately at risk. The pipeline’s planned route runs through four counties - including Delaware County - in which significant proportions of the population live in poverty or identify as a minority. There are also forty schools located in the potential impact zones of the pipeline route, making it impossible for effective evacuations for some of these schools in the case of a release of these highly volatile liquids. Yet this is a familiar conflict: for decades, fossil fuel companies and political elites have sacrificed our most vulnerable communities in order to line their own pockets.

Fossil fuel billionaires have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying out our politicians and consolidating power within the government. In previous elections Sunoco has funded a number of candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, specifically one who represented the sixth congressional district where the pipeline is currently being built. These politicians have had, unsurprisingly, poor stances on climate, opposing bills that would cut greenhouse gas emissions and the like. In addition to the political corruption, recent government reports have acknowledged Sunoco as having more oil leaks than any other pipeline in the nation. This was, of course, a heavy concern when they built the Dakota Access Pipeline through Native American land which sparked the national NoDAPL movement. In the case of the ME2 pipeline, Sunoco had already violated a court-brokered agreement when drilling fluid spilled over into “at least 3 waterways” since drilling started throughout August of 2017, including spills flowing into the Upper Uwchlan Township in Chester County. These spills are indicative of Sunoco’s tendency to blatantly disregard environmental agreements and standards and the dangers posed to Pennsylvanian communities, which could have serious implications if construction of the ME2 pipeline is finished. Sunoco has been a longtime foe of climate change resistance and communities everywhere.

Uwchlan and West Goshen Townships have safety laws already on the books that forbid pipeline construction within certain distance from homes and schools - laws that Sunoco is currently violating. It's within the power of municipal government to enforce these laws. But unfortunately, the current Boards of Supervisors are refusing to enforce the laws, and failing to protect residents and families. This is all too common— from the highest levels of our government to municipal governments, fossil fuel billionaires have an unprecedented and unacceptable grip on our democracy.

But in Uwchlan and West Goshen, there are four candidates, two in each township, that have vowed to uphold municipal law and stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people if elected. It is imperative we fight to elect Mayme Baumann and Bill Miller in Uwchlan Township and Mary LaSota and Robin Stuntebeck in West Goshen Township. Each of these candidates are standing up to the reckless greed of fossil fuel billionaires, and fighting for green jobs and clean energy.  This Saturday, we’ll be joining them, and invite members of the Swarthmore community to do the same.