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Environmental group says DEP is stonewalling it amid search for answers about plant explosion

Group says DEP is stonewalling it amid search for answers about plant explosion
Group says DEP is stonewalling it amid search for answers about plant explosion 03:38

WASHINGTON, Pa. (KDKA) — An environmental group says despite its efforts to get answers about two natural gas plants in Washington County, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is stonewalling it. 

The Washington County homestead and farm has been a place of quiet solitude for generations of the Duran family, until recently. The once-peaceful fields are flanked by two giant natural gas processing plants. A recently expanded plant operated by Mark West and one owned by the Texas company Energy Transfer are both sites of constant flaring and noise. 

Everything came to a head with an explosion and fire at the Energy Transfer plant on Christmas morning, causing the Durans to flee with their children. But half a year later, the family says it's still in the dark, as the company hasn't been sanctioned or fined and the Durans still don't know the cause.

"I would really like to see someone be held accountable for something. I've gone to township meetings. I've done my due diligence. I've complained, I've begged, I've cried," Kasey Duran said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has taken bold action against Energy Transfer in the past, ordering the company to pay $30 million in fines for an explosion at its Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County in 2018 and $20 million for more than 100 violations for leaks in its Mariner East pipeline.

But state environmental regulators have done little to address the problems at the Washington County plant. The state DEP cited the company in 2021 for failure to prevent visible emissions, and the company agreed to pay $15,000 in fines. But the DEP did not show up at the plant until a week after the Christmas explosions, it has issued no violations and it's unclear if it conducted an independent investigation.

In a statement, the DEP said it reviewed the company's findings that a faulty valve caused the explosion in a damaged tower and has allowed Energy Transfer to resume operations.

"The citizens have valid concerns about the DEP's lack of responsiveness here because they were left in the lurch," said Lisa Widawsky Hallowell of the Environmental Integrity Project.

In its statement to KDKA, Energy Transfer says it has resumed operations "in accordance with all appropriate regulations under the terms of our existing permits." 

But the Environmental Integrity Project tried to dig deeper, filing a Right-to-Know Request with the state on the cause of the explosion. What it got back was a heavily redacted explanation from Energy Transfer as to its own internal investigation.

"There is information that is missing that the regulators have but the public is not able to have," Hallowell said.

"My hope is that the DEP would want to step forward in a very transparent way and get some answers and seek more accountability," environmentalist Lisa Marcucci said. "That's what we're urging, but we feel we're in the dark right along with the community members.

The group is calling on the state to take action. First, conduct a throughout investigation of the plant and then take steps to ensure the safety of those who live nearby. 

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