Legal challenges could delay Sunoco natural gas liquids pipeline

  • Katie Colaneri

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports legal challenges could delay a project to move natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook.
Sunoco Logistics has asked the state’s Public Utility Commission to declare its Mariner East pipeline a public utility, thus allowing the company to sidestep local zoning laws to build pump and valve stations along the pipeline’s 300-mile route.
Several groups, including environmental organizations, have filed formal objections with the PUC opposing Sunoco’s claims that it is a public utility corporation.
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Sunoco’s application now will go through a full-blown legal proceeding before the PUC and raises the chance that a project viewed by Gov. Corbett and business leaders as a key to channeling Marcellus Shale products to the Philadelphia area may not begin operations by the end of the year, Sunoco’s target date.
A hearing before the five-member PUC “will not happen by the end of the summer,” said Jennifer Kocher, the PUC’s spokeswoman. And any PUC decision could be further delayed by appeals to the Commonwealth Court.

“We’re just in the preliminary stages of this,” said Aaron Stemplewicz, a staff attorney with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which joined the calls that Sunoco’s project does not qualify as a public utility.

The Mariner East project has stirred controversy in West Goshen, Chester County where residents are fighting Sunoco’s plan to build a pump station in a residential zone.
Amid public criticism, Sunoco Logistics changed its legal representation and filed an amended application to the PUC. The company’s original plan called for ethane to be stored in underground caverns at the Marcus Hook industrial complex before being shipped overseas. Now, Sunoco Logistics says it will also use the pipeline to deliver propane to local markets, reinforcing its public utility claim.
In a formal objection to the PUC, Scott Rubin, an attorney for West Goshen residents, described Sunoco’s updated application as a “subterfuge.”