Sunoco seeks injunction against anti-pipeline family and supporters in Huntingdon County

  • Susan Phillips
A sign protesting the building of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign protesting the building of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County.

Sunoco Pipeline has asked a Huntingdon County judge to order a family protesting the Mariner East 2 pipeline, and their supporters, to refrain from obstructing pipeline construction or face arrest. It’s the latest legal maneuver in a stand-off that has pitted the pipeline company against the Gerhart family.

The company is now a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, which built the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

Ellen and Stephen Gerhart, along with their daughter Elise, oppose construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which would carry natural gas liquids across the state and through their 27-acre property in Huntingdon County.

The family continues to fight the eminent domain taking of their property in court. Currently, the state Supreme Court is weighing whether to review the case. In the meantime, pipeline construction is permitted to continue. And the Gerharts say they have no choice but to resist though nonviolent civil disobedence.

Sunoco’s 21-page motion for a preliminary injunction against the activists includes detailed descriptions of efforts by the Gerharts and their supporters to block construction. The family has not hidden any of their intentions, which have been reported widely and are detailed on the public Facebook pages ResistSunocoPA and CampWhitePinePA. Sunoco also surveilled the Gerhart property with drones and sent employees onto neighboring properties.

Ellen Gerhart told StateImpact helicopters have flown low over their property during the past several days. Jeff Shields, spokesman for Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners, says neither the company nor any third parties working for the company have flown helicopters over the Gerhart property.

A call to the entity listed as the owner of one helicopter identified by Ellen Gerhart, Air Chopper LLC based in Berwick, Pa. elicited an odd response. “You’ll have to talk to a lawyer,” said a man claiming to be with the company. “I’m not a gynecologist but I’ll try to help.”

During protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline last year, Energy Transfer Partners hired a private security firm, which used dogs to attack activists. Recently, leaked documents published by the Intercept, show the company’s private security firm worked with local police to use militaristic anti-terrorism tactics against protestors.

Elise Gerhart climbed a tree on her family's land in Huntingdon County to try to stop crews from clearing trees for a natural gas liquids pipeline.

Reid Frazier/ The Allegheny Front

Elise Gerhart climbed a tree on her family's land in Huntingdon County to try to stop crews from clearing trees for a natural gas liquids pipeline.

Camp White Pine is the name of the encampment where the Gerharts and their supporters have constructed tree platforms equipped with zip lines. The plan is to remain in the trees in order to prevent construction workers from installing the pipeline.

Although the company cleared trees in March, three white pine trees remain standing because Elise Gerhart sat on a platform high up in one of the trees long enough to prevent their removal. The company is prevented from clearing trees after April 1 due to the endangered Indiana Bat.

It’s unclear how the company can proceed with the construction without removing those three trees. Permission from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service is required to clear trees after April 1.

In the motion, Sunoco detailed the financial harm the company would incur if it is prevented from building that section of the line. It went into great detail on the public benefit of the pipeline, something that landowners along the 350-mile line have taken issue with and challenged in court. So far, with little success.

The bulk of the natural gas liquids to be transferred by the pipeline will be shipped overseas to a plastics manufacturer in Scotland. The company says it will also unload some of the gas in Berks County.

Sunoco’s motion sites a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission order dated August 21, 2014, which says the Mariner East 2 will allow Pennsylvania residents access to a stable supply of propane during harsh winters and that it would be transported more safely than through truck or rail. It also discusses the revitalization of the Marcus Hook Industrial complex in Delaware County, where “processing plants are being built by third parties and hundreds of jobs will be in the balance.”

The motion points to the jobs created by the pipeline construction, which, taken together, it says are no comparison to any harm that may be suffered by the Gerharts.

Asked whether the protests would end if the judge grants Sunoco its request, Ellen Gerhart said: “we are continuing to resist efforts by Sunoco to build a pipeline on our property.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of acres of the Gerhart property. It is 27 acres.