Sunoco seeks to calm fears of Mariner East pipeline project in Chester County

  • Jon Hurdle
A pipeline construction site in Northeast Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A pipeline construction site in northeast Pennsylvania.

Sunoco Logistics took its pipeline-promotion show on the road to Chester County on Monday, seeking to calm residents’ concerns surrounding the construction of a of a major new natural gas liquids pipeline from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania to a processing plant at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia.

Company officials sought to offset fears over flaring, pumping stations and land contracts in two presentations and an accompanying “open house” at West Chester University where residents were invited to hear about the company’s plans and ask questions, during an evening-long program.

Plans to develop the existing Mariner East 1 pipeline, and to build the planned Mariner East 2 line along the same route were presented to about 50 people by two company officials.

Don Zoladkiewicz, the company’s community relations liaison, stressed safety, air quality, and noise attenuation. He said the pipelines are water-tested at pressures exceeding their operating pressure; that an outlet tower at a pump station will not be used for flaring, as seen at refineries, and that a structure on a pump station site is sufficiently well insulated that the sound is no louder than a dishwasher.

Matthew Gordon, the Mariner East project manager, assured residents that the company’s work is subject to inspection by federal officials, including one that has been assigned full-time to oversee the project.

The $2.5 billion project includes the repurposed Mariner 1 line, an eight-inch pipe that is already pumping propane from Houston, Pa., and from the end of the third quarter this year is due to add ethane for a total capacity of 70,000 barrels a day.

The project will also include Mariner East 2, a 20-inch pipe that will carry propane, ethane and butane totaling 275,000 barrels a day when complete, said Jeff Shields, a Sunoco spokesman.

The company is also weighing the feasibility of a second line that would be part of the Mariner East 2 project. Any decision to go ahead with the second line would be based on market demand, and Shields said there was a “good possibility” of it going ahead. A decision is expected by the end of 2015, he said.

Completion of the lines will depend in part on the company negotiating land easements with property owners across southern Pennsylvania, including in Chester County where 420 properties will be crossed. Of that total, negotiations are underway with about 200 landowners, Shields said.

One resident asked why he had been “incentivized” to sign a lease within a week. Gordon said the apparent urgency of that transaction probably reflected the land agents’ need to stay on schedule because they have about 2,500 contracts to negotiate along the full length of the pipeline.

Despite the assurances of company officials, and the non-confrontational tone of the meeting, some residents remain worried about the effects of the pipeline.

“Nobody looks at the ramifications from an air-quality standpoint,” said Sam Talucci, 63, a resident of West Goshen Township, where opposition to the project has been strong. “You put these flare towers and they are burning all kinds of carcinogens and they are in a neighborhood.”

He argued that there is a higher incidence of health issues such as still births and miscarriages near flaring operations in other parts of the country. Talucci, a management consultant, said his house is about 1,500 feet from where a flare tower is due to be built.

Asked whether he had considered moving away because of his concerns about the planned flaring, Talucci said: “I’ve lived there almost 30 years, why would I sell it, and who’s going to buy it?” he said.

But Richard Davis, also a West Goshen resident, said Monday’s meeting had helped to calm his concerns about the pipeline project.

Davis said the presentation was more interactive than an earlier version which he said had left a “negative impression” with a lot of people. The earlier meeting had given people less opportunity to ask questions, and had resulted in some misinformation being spread about which had “festered for a while,” he said.

“This went over much better, and addressed peoples’ concerns directly,” he said.

Davis said Sunoco had not yet approached him to seek an easement but that he fully expects to get a visit from a land agent because his property is directly in the planned path of the new pipeline.

Asked whether he would allow Sunoco to lay the pipeline through his property, Davis replied: “We’ve found out that we won’t have the option to say no, but what we will have the option to do is negotiate for the best deal possible,” he said.

Because Sunoco has utility status for the pipeline project, it can take land by eminent domain if necessary, Davis said.

Shields, the company spokesman, described eminent domain as a “last resort” in the company’s bid to acquire land.

Sunoco will host a second open house on Wednesday evening in Media, Delaware County.

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