MIDDLETOWN >> Two demonstrators – part of a group that dubbed themselves the “Mama Bear Brigade” including mothers and grandmothers – were arrested Tuesday when they sat down and blocked construction of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline on Pennell Road.
Accompanied by six supporters, the area-residents staged a sit-in protest of the pipeline construction.
Arrested for trespassing, a summary offense, by Pennsylvania State Police, were Middletown residents Fran Sheldon and Meaghan Flynn. They were soon released by police. Attorney and former state Senate candidate Tanner Rouse will represent Sheldon and Flynn.
The “Mama Bear Brigade,” including Middletown Township residents and Glenwood Elementary School parents, staged the protest and are women concerned about their children and grandchildren in the blast zone of the pipeline.
While the women waited for police, they sang a children’s song, “The Teddy Bear Picnic” with new lyrics.
Caroline Hughes, of Del-Chesco United, supported the demonstrators, who have raised their safety concerns for two years.
“The mothers and grandmothers on-site had written letters, signed petitions, testified, and met with the governor and now they are feeling that there is no other choice,” Hughes said. “They are taking children’s safety into their own hands and trying to stop construction.”
Sunoco spokesperson Lisa Dillinger said the pipeline builder lost little time because of the protest.
“While we respect that people have varying opinions regarding energy and infrastructure, maintaining a safe working environment is a priority,” Dillinger said. “We were able to resume work quickly this morning, so our day’s timeline was not affected. “
The women blocked construction of the pipeline after entering onto a drill site and occupying the area to prevent operation of a drill rig. When asked by police to disperse, four members of the group left, while two others refused to leave and were subsequently arrested.
The drill site is just a short distance from Glenwood Elementary School and connects directly to the section of non-operating pipe that was struck during drilling by Aqua contractors in June after Sunoco misreported the depth of their own newly installed pipe, Aqua representatives said.
Glenwood Elementary has been the epicenter of the hotly contested pipeline debate in Delaware County due to its proximity to Mariner East 2 and 2X and an above-ground valve station. The June pipeline strike amplified concerns expressed by the community.
The residents, who have been engaged in advocacy work for two years, and who have met with all their local and state officials, including with Gov. Tom Wolf, said they had been left with no other choice to try and stop construction of what they said is a “reckless and dangerous pipeline,” according to a Del-Chesco United release. The demonstrators appealed to government officials, attended hearings before regulatory agencies, and took legal action in the courts which slowed, but failed to halt, Sunoco’s efforts to build a pipeline to carry highly explosive materials through densely populated suburbs.
The women were later released by police after receiving citations for trespassing. Meaghen Flynn, one of the “Mama Bears” arrested as part of the action, lives down the street from the drill site and is the mother of a Glenwood Elementary School student.
“What we want from Governor Wolf is to stop this pipeline,” Flynn said. “If these pipelines ever become operational, our children will be in the ‘blast zone’ 24-hours a day.
“I don’t know what else I can do to protect them. We’ve done everything else we can do.”
Allyson Galloway lives across the street from the drill site and watched the protest from her home.
“We live 50 feet from the pipeline and our children also go to Glenwood. They are at risk all day, every day,” Galloway said. “Governor Wolf has ignored our repeated invitations to come to our neighborhood and see for himself how this project threatens our safety.”
On Dec. 20, 2017, residents of Delaware and Chester counties met with Gov. Wolf and requested a halt to the project until a publicly available risk assessment is completed. When residents returned to Wolf’s office for an answer on March 20, they were greeted by closed doors and armed guards outside of the governor’s public reception area.
To date, Wolf has not directly responded to the residents’ requests. Wednesday’s action was part of a larger regional campaign: #DefendWhatYouLoveSummer in which residents across Pennsylvania are engaging in peaceful nonviolent actions against the Mariner East pipelines project.
The pipelines carry highly volatile, liquid ethane, butane, and propane to Marcus Hook to be exported for plastics production. There are 40 schools across the state of Pennsylvania in the “immediate-ignition blast zone” of the pipeline, including Glenwood Elementary in Middletown Township.
The operator, Sunoco, has the worst accident record of any pipeline company, according to the release. Sunoco’s existing highly volatile liquids pipeline, marketed as “Mariner East 1” apparently to signify its export purpose, uses a pipeline constructed in the 1930s.
Mariner East 1 leaked hazardous, highly volatile liquids three times during 2016-2017, each time in a “high-consequence area,” reads the release. In addition to the construction of Mariner East 2 and 2X, Sunoco is now proposing to repurpose an additional antiquated pipeline.