When you pass by a construction site, you expect a messy scene. However, when you pass a pipeline construction site, the knee-jerk response always appears to be to forget the basic logic that construction methods are employed to ensure safety to workers and the environment.
One particular issue here is the recurrent stopping-and-starting of drilling equipment during Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) for underground pipeline installation. The recent Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) settlement, signed by environmental groups, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), and Sunoco Pipeline, went above and beyond what is required to mitigate environmental impact and safeguard surrounding communities. However, the agreement has proven to be more detrimental to the environment because of some of the enhanced requirements on construction teams. Specifically, stopping and starting drills as required in every instance of inadvertent returns, only causes increased instances of these inadvertent returns and only increase the negative environmental impact.
Inadvertent returns are an expected occurrence during the horizontal drilling process – and there are extensive contingency plans accordingly prepared. However, every time you stop and start a drill underground it then increases the environmental risks for further inadvertent returns. As an environmentalist and as a civic-minded person, this should set off serious alarms when environmental activists are advocating this as best practice.
Groups like the Clean Air Council and Delaware Riverkeeper Network fall into this category with a plethora of partners who seek to shut down pipeline development by any means necessary; however policies they have endorsed are in fact more environmentally harmful.
Construction is messy and inadvertent returns are to be expected. Plans are in place to take care of their occurrence in a contained and safe manner. Groups that employ fear mongering tactics to prolong the construction process do so in ways that negatively impact the very things they proclaim to protect. Such groups should work with pipeline developers and regulators like the DEP to safely develop these types of clean energy transportation vehicles as opposed to advocate policies, detrimental to the environment.