Sunoco Pipeline plan draws political resistance

Posted: April 05, 2014

An elaborate plan by Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. to transport Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids by pipeline across Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook is running into resistance.

The company's subsidiary, Sunoco Pipeline L.P., last month filed an application with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to sidestep local zoning restrictions to build pump and valve control stations in 31 municipalities crossed by the pipeline.

Sunoco Pipeline argues that it is a "public utility corporation," and that the PUC can exempt the construction of the above-ground structure from local zoning if it determines the buildings are "reasonably necessary for the convenience or welfare of the public."

A pumping station slated to be built on a two-acre site at the corner of Boot Road and Route 202 in West Goshen Township has triggered alarm.

Two suburban Philadelphia state senators on Wednesday wrote to the PUC, contending that the exemptions would conflict with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in December upholding local zoning rights over oil and gas activity.

"At the very least, we urge you to hold a public hearing in Chester County before any decision is made," argued Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester) and John Rafferty Jr. (R., Montgomery).

Sunoco Pipeline, which is based in Philadelphia, says it needs to build 18 pumping stations along the pipeline to push propane and ethane extracted from Marcellus Shale natural gas in Western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook, where the company has an export facility.

The proposed West Goshen pumping station, housed in a 24-foot-high building, would include a 34-foot-high "flaring" stack to burn off fuel during maintenance procedures.

Sunoco also wants to build 17 valve control stations along the pipeline to allow the operators to control pressure remotely.

The PUC action would relieve Sunoco of the need to get separate zoning approval in 31 towns.

"We believe that our above-ground facilities are part of the state's critical energy infrastructure, as with public utilities, and should be treated as such," said Jeffrey Shields, a Sunoco spokesman.

Sunoco has asked the PUC for an expedited decision. Formal protests and petitions to intervene are due by April 21.

The pipeline project, called Mariner East, was announced in 2010 as a means of transporting propane and ethane from the Marcellus Shale region in Western Pennsylvania to the Delaware River, where the materials can be exported. Local officials also hope the pipeline can fuel industrial development.

The Mariner project involves converting an existing eight-inch pipeline that carried fuel from Philadelphia refineries to Western Pennsylvania. The project requires about 45 miles of new pipeline in Western Pennsylvania. Sunoco's efforts to acquire rights of way by eminent domain have run into resistance.

Sunoco last year announced plans to build a second Marcellus liquids pipeline to Marcus Hook that it initially called Mariner East 2 but has since been renamed the Pennsylvania Pipeline. Unlike the Mariner East project, the new pipeline will need new rights of way.

Harrisburg lawyer Michael Faherty, who has fought Sunoco's efforts to survey the new route, argues that the company is not a "public utility corporation" under the law.


amaykuth@phillynews.com

215-854-2947

@maykuth

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