Violations of state environmental rules. Underground drilling that caused a number of sinkholes. Poor construction and oversight practices. A pipeline explosion that destroyed a house and threatened a neighborhood.

Energy Transfer Corp. has not exactly been the best of business partners as it constructs major natural gas pipelines across Pennsylvania.

The state Department of Environmental Protection put a hold on the company’s requests for environmental permits after the September 2018 explosion, effectively shutting down several pipeline projects. It wasn’t until earlier this month that DEP reached an agreement with the Texas-based company to resume permitting, but only after fining Energy Transfer $30.6 million — one of the largest fines ever issued over an oil and gas project — for the pipeline explosion.

The agency needs to remain vigilant in its oversight of a company that has thus far shown a less-than-stellar work history in the commonwealth.

The explosion in Beaver County was caused by a landslide that ruptured the Revolution pipeline, which connects natural gas wells in Beaver and Butler counties to a processing plant in Washington County. The pipeline had been activated just days before the incident.

An investigation by environmental regulators of Energy Transfer and its contractors found that poor construction practices led to the disaster. More than two years before the incident, the company knew the site had “high susceptibility to slope failure,” but that information was not provided to the engineers who submitted the permit requests.

After a landslide several months before the explosion, the company did not consult with engineers or geotechnical experts on how to stabilize the ground. Instead, crews moved the soil from the landslide back uphill. When the soil slid down it again, it ruptured the pipeline and caused the explosion.

DEP previously fined Energy Transfer for environmental rules violations in connection with the Mariner East natural gas liquid pipelines stretching across the southern part of the state and heading to terminals near Philadelphia. Underground drilling led to a number of sinkholes in Eastern Pennsylvania and resulted in more than $12 million in civil penalties.

When DEP first placed a halt on permits for Energy Transfer, Gov. Tom Wolf assured Pennsylvanians that the company would be held accountable.

“There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities,” Mr. Wolf said. “This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated.”

That commitment to oversight and accountability needs to be a top priority for environmental regulators as pipeline projects continue throughout the state. Anything less is unacceptable.

— Pittsburgh Post-

Gazette

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Each of us can help limit spread of flu

As we reach the middle of winter, the dreaded flu season is heating up all over Pennsylvania, including Berks County and nearby areas.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported in early January that confirmed cases had jumped to 518 for the season, up 65% from the previous week. As of the week ending Jan. 4, there were 25,362 laboratory-confirmed flu cases across Pennsylvania, officials said. That was up 68% from the week before, which had seen an increase of 56% from the previous week.

A total of 477 flu-associated hospitalizations and 13 flu-associated deaths had been reported statewide as of early January. The state reported 10 of those who died were age 65 and older, two were between 50 and 64 and one was between 19 and 49. As of late December, there were at least 6.4 million flu cases nationwide, 55,000 hospitalizations and 2,900 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Penn State Health St. Joseph and Reading Hospital have reported seeing significant increases in flu patients in recent weeks.

Penn State Health has been having some flu patients admitted to the hospital, in most cases due to other conditions such as diabetes or lung issues that make them more vulnerable to the flu’s side effects, said Mari Driscoll, infection control coordinator.

Hundreds of other people have gone to the hospital seeking treatment for symptoms of the flu. Most were told to rest, drink lots of fluids, take Tylenol for fevers and possibly Tamiflu if the flu was detected early enough.

Most years the A strain of the flu hits locally first and brings more severe symptoms than the B strain, which arrives late in the season, Driscoll said. But this year the B strain has already been just as prevalent as the A type, with similar symptoms.

Driscoll said St. Joseph also has been admitting patients with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which can be as bad or worse than the flu, sometimes causing serious respiratory problems and typically affecting young children and older adults.

Reading Hospital also has seen an unusually higher number of B-type flu cases with symptoms similar to A cases, said Dr. Debra Powell, chief of the section of infectious disease. And the hospital has had a lot of RSV cases.

The flu season usually peaks locally about the 10th or 12th week of the year, but this year it will likely hit earlier, maybe by early February, Driscoll said.

The evolving nature of the flu makes it difficult to predict what’s going to happen. But regardless of when the worst of it hits or which strains strike, there are steps each of us can take in the interest of personal and public health.

For starters, that means getting a flu vaccination. It’s not too late to do so, and both local hospitals urged those who haven’t received a flu shot to do so now. There’s no excuse to skip it. There was a time when people assumed they had to make an appointment or attend a special clinic to get vaccinated. But today it’s widely available at local drugstores as well as most doctors’ offices and drug stores. It’s the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications.

Remember that getting the vaccine doesn’t just protect you from getting seriously ill, it reduces the likelihood that you’ll spread it to someone else who may face serious danger from contracting it.

Driscoll said this year’s flu vaccine seems to cover the strains most commonly being seen by doctors. Even in years when the vaccine proves less effective, doctors say it still makes flu symptoms easier to tolerate.

Another step people can take, regardless of whether or not they’ve been vaccinated, is to wash hands frequently to avoid spreading the flu or other viruses.

Yes, we know this is one of those messages that people tend to tune out because they hear it year after year, and they see it as just another flu season. But for some of us it’s a matter of life and death. Let’s treat it that way.

— Reading Eagle

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