The Associated Press has learned that the FBI has opened an investigation into the process by which Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration issued construction permits for the Mariner East Pipeline project.
All three spoke on condition of anonymity because they said they could not speak publicly about the investigation.
The focus of the agents’ questions involves the permitting of the pipeline, whether Wolf and his administration pressured environmental protection staff to approve construction permits and whether Wolf or his administration received anything in return, those people say.
The Mariner East pipelines are owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer LP and the construction is estimated to cost $3 billion. Energy Transfer says it is the largest investment of private money in Pennsylvania history.
Wolf’s administration declined comment on the investigation Tuesday. In the past, Wolf and his administration have said the permits contained strong environmental protections and that the Department of Environmental Protection wasn’t forced to issue the permits.
An Energy Transfer spokeswoman said the company had not been contacted by the FBI about the Mariner East.
The chief federal prosecutor in Harrisburg, PA, U.S. Attorney David Freed, declined comment.
Wolf has said that the pipeline’s economic benefits would outweigh the potential environmental harm, and that the Mariner East would be part of a distribution system that the industry needed.
The state’s building trades unions have seen a huge influx of work on the Mariner East pipelines and Marcus Hook. Exploration firms drilling in the booming Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale fields shipping natural gas liquids through Mariner East pipelines and Marcus Hook have helped the U.S. become the world’s leading ethane exporter.
The roughly 300-mile (480-kilometer) Mariner East 1 was originally built in the 1930s to transport gasoline westward from Marcus Hook. It was renovated and, in 2014, began carrying natural gas liquids eastward to the refinery from southwestern Pennsylvania’s drilling fields.
Construction permit applications were submitted in 2015 for two wider pipelines, the 350-mile-long (563-kilometer) Mariner East 2 and 2x, designed for the same purpose, but stretching farther, through West Virginia’s northern panhandle and into Ohio.
Both were projected to be open in 2017. But Mariner East 2 began operating in late December, and Mariner East 2X could be complete in 2020.
Residents of neighborhoods near the planned route have expressed safety concerns about the pipeline.
County and state prosecutors are also investigating the pipeline.
Chester County’s district attorney, Tom Hogan, opened an investigation last December. In March, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, said his office had opened an investigation on a referral from Delaware County’s district attorney.
At the time the permits were issued, Wolf denied applying pressure to approve the pipeline permits. Rather, he said he had simply insisted the department stick to its own timeline to consider them and that he believed the department had done its due diligence.
Requests from environmental opposition groups to halt construction was denied, but they did win additional protective steps in a settlement.
In depositions and internal documents that became exhibits in the appeal, department employees said the schedule to consider the applications had been sped up, but none said they had been forced to approve permits over their objections.