Company Behind DAPL Continues to Bully Landowners and Contaminate Water
Doris Blume broke down crying several times in the couple hours I was on her family’s farm in Newville, PA. She and her husband Ralph haven’t been able to drink their water for weeks because of iron bacteria contamination and the morning I was there the pipe between their house and well went, so now they can’t even use the bathroom.
When Sunoco seized part of the Blume’s land by eminent domain to build their Mariner East 2 pipeline, they cleared trees Doris’ father planted 65 years ago. She’s 78 and has lived on this land since she was a toddler. The trees will never be able to be replaced in her lifetime.
Her husband Ralph doesn’t think they’ll be able to get a hay crop in the field where construction is now going on for at least four years. And then there’s the piece of mind they’ve lost with a highly pressurized, fracked gas liquids pipeline going in about 100 feet from their house.
“It’s not a good situation,” Ralph Blume said. “If this pipe were to have a leak and explode everything I own would go up in a ball of flame.”
The Right of Way Agent who comes to talk to the Blumes about the water contamination tells them recently he’s worked on deals where landowners got $45 for every foot the pipeline will cross their property and they should be thrilled to be able to get that much. The Blumes have never signed an easement for the Mariner East 2 pipeline and so far haven’t received any money from the pipeline company.
The Right of Way Agent also said Sunoco doesn’t believe their construction contaminated the Blume’s water, but the company is willing to install an iron filtration system anyway. Ralph wants them to drill a new well.
He and Doris think that because the land above their house was stripped of vegetation, water contaminated with iron bacteria is now running towards their house and into their hand dug well. Their water has been giving off a funny smell for weeks and burns their eyes and faces if they use it.
They also think the iron bacteria ate through the pipe that brings the water from the well to their house. The Right of Way Agent tells them to prove it. He said Sunoco won’t drill them a new well until they have an expert prove the company caused the damage.
Living and working on a piece of land your entire life is apparently not enough expertise for Sunoco. The Blumes says they’ve never seen so much water coming down the hill and it’s never run off towards the house.
But Sunoco, a billion dollar company, wants the Blumes, regular citizens with no resources, to prove their construction contaminated the water.
The Right of Way Agent asks them if it’s Sunoco’s fault, than why hasn’t this happened other places?
It’s a funny question to ask because there have been multiple cases of confirmed water contamination along the pipeline construction route and over 90 drilling spills according to DEP records.
Currently under construction, the Mariner East 2 pipeline will transport fracked gas liquids 350+ miles across the length of Pennsylvania to an export facility on the East Coast in Marcus Hook, PA.
Despite the fact that the product transported by the pipeline is intended for export, Sunoco, now owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the notorious company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, was able to seize the Blume’s and many other folks’ land by eminent domain.
Many of the families decided to settle once they lost their eminent domain cases in the lower courts. Out of the 210 landowners who will have the pipeline cross their property in Cumberland County, Ralph thinks they’re the only ones left still taking on the company.
Sunoco’s pattern of bullying landowners into submission has been used across the state and when landowners choose to peaceful protest, they use local law enforcement to protect their interest.
The treatment Ralph received from the constables sent to guard the pipeline on his property however has been drastically different than how police treated indigenous Water Protectors trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In North Dakota, ETP dragged Water Protectors who were praying from teepees, shot them with rubber bullets and sprayed them with tear gas at close range and water hoses in freezing weather. In Pennsylvania, they didn’t want the publicity of arresting an elderly, rural white farmer who runs a gun shop and loves watching NASCAR with his wife for fighting off eminent domain.
Ralph said he drove right up to where Sunoco was clearing trees and the officers refused to arrest him. He jokes now that he’d be better off in jail because at least there he could take a shit, something he can’t do as long as there’s no water in his home.
His wife says she can’t live with this anymore. She apologized for collapsing into tears so many times but said completely losing their water that morning just broke her.
Ralph vows to continue to fight the pipeline until the day he dies, but he’s not too optimistic it can be stopped.
He’s reached out to the DEP and Governor about the water contamination and asked his county legislators and state representative to do something. He lives only about 30 miles from the state capital in Harrisburg, but so far the state government hasn’t shown any signs of caring about what’s happened. They’re pro-pipeline. So is the local government.
Ralph and Doris wants to know since the local law enforcement is working for the company and they’ve got all the government officials on their side, who is standing up for the little guys like them?