Commissioners rip ‘redacted’ Sunoco pipeline emergency plan

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Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell view an excerpt from the heavily redacted Sunoco pipeline emergency management plan.

WEST CHESTER — After many requests, and eventually demands, the Chester County Commissioners confirmed receipt Thursday by the Department of Emergency Services of the long-awaited Sunoco pipeline emergency management plan.  But the confirmation came with disdain as the Commissioners noted that Sunoco’s plan was heavily redacted for “security reasons”, and that according to Mike Murphy, Director of Chester County’s Department of Emergency Services, only about five percent of the plan is usable.

“Anger, frustration, exasperation, disgust – these words don’t even begin to cover how we feel about this latest action by Sunoco. To call this a “plan” is ridiculous, and to say that they are cooperating is an insult,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline.

Over the past two years, Chester County has reached out to Sunoco on many occasions to gather crucial pipeline emergency safety information that would allow the Department of Emergency Services (DES) to work with all first responders to better prepare for mass notification and neighborhood emergency practices in the event of a pipeline disaster.  DES leaders and the County Commissioners have formally contacted Sunoco directly as well as through the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and PEMA.

Sunoco agreed to provide the emergency plan via the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which in turn redacted a significant portion of the plan.

“This ‘plan’ is worthless,” said Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone.  “For Sunoco to claim that they have sent us their emergency plan is beyond wrong and this document does not let them ‘check that box’ to say they have cooperated, because yet again, they haven’t.”

“We reached out to all pipeline operators with a presence in Chester County and the only one that refused to provide an emergency plan was Sunoco,” added Commissioner Cozzone.  “None of the other pipeline operator plans include large chunks of blacked-out information, and the reason for this is that none of the other operators insisted on sending the plan through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.”

The Commissioners announced at the end of February the County’s plan to take legal action against Sunoco, beginning with intervention in the Flynn et al. v. Sunoco Pipeline LP proceedings before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The Petition to Intervene was filed today. In addition to the legal action, the Commissioners gave notice to Sunoco Pipeline LP of the termination of two temporary easements on the Chester County Library property that were granted to Sunoco in 2017.  The notice explained that there were no terms for renewal of the temporary easements within the 2017 agreements.

Commissioner Terence Farrell said, “Because the document we received withholds critical safety information we are exploring further legal action to get what our first responders really need, and what our citizens deserve.

“Those police, fire and EMS personnel on the front line are doing everything that they can to be trained and equipped for a pipeline disaster.  The one part missing is Sunoco’s comprehensive emergency plan, and despite Sunoco’s claims, we still do not have that.”

The training that Chester County’s Department of Emergency Services and first responders undertake for scenarios such as a pipeline leak or explosion include tabletop exercises and emergency drills to validate response plans, attendance at advanced pipeline emergency courses throughout the country, work with municipalities to ensure their plans and procedures are synced with the operators’ and County plans, and training with a pipeline prop at the County’s Public Safety Training Campus.  The County has also purchased combustible gas detectors for fire departments as well as specialized equipment for the County’s Haz Mat team.

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