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The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is investigating a recent incident that occurred near Pittsburgh in Westmoreland County. Two workers were injured while cleaning the interior of a 20” underground pipeline. The workers were employed by Precision Pipeline, an Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based pipeline contractor.

Two Workers Injured on Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 Pipeline

According to Insurance Safety & Hygiene News (ISHN), one of the injured workers was treated at a local hospital and released, while the other was hospitalized with a broken arm. The workers were operating a “pig” (pipeline inspection gauge) at the time, which is a piece of equipment used to clean the insides of pipelines. A pig launching station is used to insert the pig into the pipeline, and then the pig is pushed along through the inside of the pipe by the flow of liquid or gas.

At about 11:16 p.m. on Sunday, December 9th, the workers were pulling the equipment through the pipeline near the intersection of Main Street and Gombach Road when the equipment struck and injured them. The pipeline is part of the new Sunoco Logistic’s Mariner East 2 pipeline, which is being built to carry natural gas from Western Pennsylvania to a refinery in Delaware County.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) suspended construction on the new pipeline in 2017 because of repeated permit violations. The developer was also fined $12.6 million. The pipeline was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018.

Pipeline Project Plagued with Problems

Construction on the pipeline stalled last year following a series of mud spills and concern about damaged aquifers. As of December 2017, there had been 18 spills, also called “inadvertent returns.” These spills occur when drilling mud rises to the surface during boring machine operations because of natural fractures or fissures in the ground. A court order directed the company to re-evaluate the geology along the planned pipeline to help prevent more of these spills.

There was also concern about water contamination, particularly in wells. In fact, the first spill was reported when construction resulted in well water contamination in Chester County. State Impact Pennsylvania reported in October 2017 that there had been spills and water-contamination incidents in at least four counties since the project was approved.

Sunoco implemented a number of water-protection measures and resumed construction, but the Pennsylvania DEP halted it in January 2018 because of continued problems. The DEP stated that Sunoco had committed egregious and willful violations, including unauthorized drilling and failing to notify the agency when spills occurred.

In October 2018, according to Natural Gas Intel, the mainline construction was 99 percent complete, while 98 percent of the horizontal directional drills were complete or in progress. The pipeline was initially supposed to be completed, and in operation, by the end of 2016, but delays and issues have pushed that deadline back numerous times.

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