Otten Statement on Mariner East Construction Incidents at Marsh Creek Lake (HDD290) and Shoen Road (HDD360)

Aug. 11, 2020 – Late yesterday afternoon, drilling fluid from a Mariner East horizontal directional drilling (HDD) site upstream of Marsh Creek State Park spilled into a tributary of Marsh Creek Lake and ultimately into the lake itself in an incident the industry refers to as an “inadvertent return” (IR).

Sunoco/Energy Transfer initially claimed that 1,000 gallons of drilling fluid were spilled from the site, along pipeline segment HDD-290 in Upper Uwchlan Township. As of 2 p.m. on August 11, the PA Department of Environmental Protection has increased that estimate to at least 10,000 gallons. The pipeline operator has set up barriers and vac trucks in an attempt to contain and mitigate the damage, but as photos and videos sent to my office by constituents living along the path of the spill indicate, these efforts are far too little, too late. The actual volume of the spill and the full extent of this damage are not yet known. The DEP, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Fish & Boat Commission have been on site to survey the damage.

Marsh Creek Lake is one of our greatest treasures in Chester County and in the 155th Legislative District. It is an important habitat for fish, birds, turtles, amphibians, and other land and aquatic wildlife, and a drinking water source for Downingtown Municipal Water Authority and Aqua PA’s West Chester division.

Like the dozens of constituents who have called, emailed, and sent texts since the spill occurred last night, I am angry and frustrated that this has been allowed to happen and that this entirely predictable scenario, which environmental advocates have warned of since learning the planned path of Mariner drilling, has come to fruition. I am deeply saddened at the fouling of our cherished lake and its tributary.

I have been in continual contact with DEP since learning of the spill, and I was at the site last night and this morning. Pictures and video on my official Facebook page,, help to convey the extent of the spill and the distance covered from the drill site down along the tributary creek to where it entered the Park Road Cove section of the lake.

My office has heard from a number of constituents concerned about the impact of the spill on drinking water. Residents on public water in Upper Uwchlan and Uwchlan Townships should not be affected by this incident. While the DEP does not regulate private wells, they advise nearby residents with private wells to monitor their water for changes in color, taste, smell, or turbidity (cloudiness, haziness, sediment, or suspended particles) and have it tested if you have concerns. Any changes or concerns should be reported to the Chester County Health Department.

This past Saturday and Sunday, a separate suspected inadvertent return occurred along the HDD-360 segment of pipeline that runs between Devon Drive in Uwchlan Township and Shoen Road in West Whiteland. Drilling at the Shoen Road end of the segment affected a stream and groundwater at that drilling site, causing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day to flow down the borehole and into the drill pit, where it was pumped into frac tanks and hauled away by water trucks.

I alerted DEP to the suspected IR early Saturday afternoon and was on site and in regular communication with DEP on Saturday, Sunday, and through today, as our attentions turned last night to the incident at Marsh Creek. Drilling activity at Devon Drive and Shoen Road is currently shut down while DEP determines whether the water does in fact contain drilling fluid, which would indicate that an IR did in fact occur. Depending on those results, DEP will make a determination either to allow Sunoco to restart the drill (if the incident is not determined to be an IR) or, if the incident is determined to be an IR, require drilling operations there to halt until Sunoco submits a "satisfactory" restart report.

Once again, this was an entirely predictable scenario, and one that I raised with the DEP and Sunoco in a phone call on July 17, just before drilling was permitted to resume at the HDD-360 site. I am extremely concerned not only about the groundwater impacts along this segment of pipeline, but about potential flooding of nearby ground-level apartments, where the surrounding ground is already saturated with water as a result of this drilling activity.

It is long past time for pipeline operators to face consequences for their actions, and for our state agencies to take meaningful measures to protect our neighborhoods, waterways, wetlands, and natural resources. The fines typically levied against Sunoco/Energy Transfer and other polluters following violations such as this are a drop in the bucket for these corporations, viewed by pipeline operators as the cost of doing business. Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection must put an immediate stop to the pay-to-pollute policies that allow these violations to occur time and time again, put people over profits, and pull these permits before further damage is done.