Pipeline Critics, Encouraged by Keystone Decision, Call for Halt to Mariner East 2

  • Jon Hurdle
mechanicsburg mariner east protester

Opponents of a plan by Sunoco Logistics to pump natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania renewed their call on Saturday for the company to abandon the project, less than 24 hours after President Obama killed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.

The critics gathered outside a Sunoco Logistics pumping station in Mechanicsburg to urge the company to scrap its plan to build the 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline from the Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania to a processing and export facility at Marcus Hook on the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

The event drew about 30 protesters including landowners from along the route who have refused Sunoco’s offers of compensation for building the pipeline beneath their land and have now gone to court to fight the company’s assertion of eminent domain. Organizers said the event was the first meeting of landowners from the entire pipeline route, and represented a new statewide approach to the campaign.

The protest came during a break in a day-long meeting in nearby Carlisle at which the landowners and some of their lawyers discussed legal strategies and proposals to build public support for the campaign against the pipeline.

Participants held placards with slogans such as “No Eminent Domain for Private Gain” and “Huntingdon County Against Mariner East” and accused Sunoco of using eminent domain to secure access to private land without having the authority from Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission to do so.

“This project has never been approved by any regulatory authority,” said Sam Koplinka-Loehr, shale gas organizer with Clear Air Council, which has sued Sunoco to block the $2.5 billion project.

“The company has been trying to build the narrative that they are a public utility corporation and have as such the right of eminent domain to build this project but so far there has been no ruling from any state body to say they have the right to build this project,” Koplinka-Loehr told StateImpact.

But Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields reiterated the company’s position that it is entitled to assert eminent domain because it is classified as a public utility corporation by the PUC and is regulated as such because it distributes product within Pennsylvania as well as across state lines.

He argued that since the PUC already regulates the existing Mariner East 1 line which  pumps propane across the state, it is legitimately a public utility corporation.

“The PUC is regulating our movements on Mariner East 1 as we speak,” Shields said. “That’s the definition of being regulated by the PUC.”

Meanwhile, protesters said they joined the event in the hope of countering what they see as bullying tactics by the company — which aims to have Mariner East 2 up and running by the end of 2016.

David Fertig, a Cumberland County farmer, said he joined the protest because Sunoco had taken him to court to get access to his land in order to repair some existing pipelines there.

Fertig, 40, who held a sign saying: “No Trespassing, No Surveying, No Mariner East Pipeline”, said he had expected Sunoco would have access only to the areas of his farm where the pipeline is located but said a local judge had given the company access to the whole property, allowing its workers to “come and go as they pleased,” he said.

As a result, Fertig said there were “40, 50, 60 trucks a day” going past his front door, and he was required to tell the company if he wanted to use a lane to get access to his land. He said Sunoco workers ignored his requests to stay away from his turkey sheds because of the danger of spreading avian influenza.

Opponents of Sunoco Logistics' plan to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline across 14 Pennsylvania counties protested outside a Sunoco pumping station in Mechanicsburg on Nov 7.

Jon Hurdle/StateImpact PA

Opponents of Sunoco Logistics' plan to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline across 14 Pennsylvania counties protested outside a Sunoco pumping station in Mechanicsburg on Nov 7.

Fertig said Sunoco offered him about $30,000 in compensation but he did not respond and so the company has now moved to “condemn” his property as a step toward getting a court order to secure eminent domain.

The farmer said he would consider any further offer from the company but was mostly concerned with being able to preserve the farm for his children. “I’m willing to look at anything they might put on the table,” he said.

Sunoco’s Shields said Fertig has been opposed to the pipeline from the start but that the company has tried to work with him. The company recognizes the importance of bio-security, and will soon provide training on that topic for its field workers, Shields said.

He said he couldn’t address some specifics of Fertig’s case but argued that the company takes a respectful approach to landowners’ concerns. “We listen to their concerns when they bring them up and try to be respectful at all times,” Shields said.

Some protestors said they were encouraged by the termination of the Keystone pipeline, and hoped that their opposition to the Mariner East 2 project will attract equal public support in Pennsylvania.

Shannon Watson, who lives in Conewago Township near Hershey, said an existing Sunoco pipeline has run through her neighborhood since the 1930s and was once used to carry petroleum products from the coast to the interior of the United States.

Watson, 42, a substitute teacher, said the pipeline’s previous purpose was acceptable to her but that current plans to use pipelines to ship products for export are not.

“I would have been willing to take one for the team, for the betterment of the country,” she said. “So now I’m not going to take one for the team,” she said. “I am against it, and I think they are just out to make money.”

Watson said Sunoco offered her $3,000 to build the pipeline through her 1-acre property but she rejected it and said she is not interested in financial compensation.

Beyond considerations of compensation, some protesters said they are worried about the safety of the new pipeline.

Shields said the company is meeting or exceeding federal safety regulations, and that Mariner East 2 will represent no more of a safety risk than regular gas pipelines that serve many homes.

“It will be no different than what we live with every day with natural gas lines going down our streets,” he said.

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