Sunoco backs down in pipeline zoning fight

  • Marie Cusick
This graphic shows Sunoco's two natural gas liquids pipelines, the Mariner East 1 and the proposed Mariner East 2.

Sunoco Logistics

This graphic shows Sunoco's two natural gas liquids pipelines: the existing Mariner East 1 (blue) and the proposed Mariner East 2 (red). Sunoco Logistics

Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics has withdrawn a request with the state Public Utility Commission to circumvent local zoning in order to build pump and valve structures along its 300- mile Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids pipeline.

Late last year Mariner 1 partially came online, and it’s already shipping propane across the state. Approximately 15 pump and valve control structures are needed along the route to keep the liquids flowing. These facilities faced a backlash from environmental groups and communities that were upset Sunoco attempted to bypass local zoning. In October the PUC affirmed the company has “public utility” status and the pipeline is not subject to zoning– however the structures housing its pump stations could be subject to zoning.

Although it’s backing out of the case, Sunoco is still moving forward with the overall project. The company now says it will work with municipalities– either by modifying the structures around the pumps and valves or not building any at all.

“Sunoco Logistics has been committed to cooperating with municipalities to address their respective needs and concerns,” company spokesman Jeff Sheilds wrote in an email.

But some opponents remain wary, like Tom Casey who heads the Chester County Community Coalition– a group that has fought the pipeline.

“It’s an odd request for them, to fight for almost a year and then pull out. It doesn’t make sense,” he says. “Until we get more information, it’s really hard to say where they’re heading.”

Casey now worries Sunoco won’t construct buildings to house the pump and valve stations.

“If they operate this equipment without these structures it exposes them to the elements and that puts everyone at an even higher degree of risk,” he says.

Sunoco has said it would prefer to build the structures.