Mariner East 2 pipeline construction crews work in the backyards of homes on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, on May 2, after sinkholes opened in the area. That caused one of the ME2 project's many delays.

Marie Cusick / WITF

Sunoco wants to use older pipeline to pump NGLs over unfinished sections of ME2

Local officials say Sunoco has told them it has customers waiting

  • Jon Hurdle

Sunoco said Tuesday it plans to pump natural gas liquids through an existing 12-inch pipeline in some sections of Delaware and Chester counties where the new Mariner East pipelines are still under construction.

The company said it will use a portion of the older line from Wallace Township to Middletown Township so that it can supply NGLs to its customers while construction proceeds.

“We have identified an existing pipeline that will allow us to meet our customer obligations to get natural gas liquids to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex while work on the Mariner East system continues,” said Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Sunoco’s parent, Energy Transfer Partners.

“A minimum amount of work will be required to change this line from a refined products line to a NGL pipeline – e.g., connection pipeline and five new mainline valves, which can be done quickly and safely,” she said.

She said that section of the pipeline underwent a $30 million upgrade in 2016.

Local officials and a legislative aide said the company has applied to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to repurpose a 12-inch pipeline that previously carried petroleum products and which would now temporarily transmit propane, ethane and butane.

The company recently informed townships including West Whiteland and East Goshen that it plans to reuse the old line because it’s under pressure from clients to deliver promised natural gas liquids, which are now at least 18 months behind the original schedule because of repeated regulatory and technical delays during construction.

“What Sunoco has told us that there is an existing 12-inch line that’s in service today, and that they have filed an application to PHMSA with the intention to utilize that line to transport NGLs,” said Rick Smith, manager of East Goshen Township in Chester County.

He said Sunoco is looking to use the existing pipeline because the multibillion-dollar Mariner East 2 and 2X lines are held up in some places, and the company is anxious to fulfill orders.

“They have people who are looking for these NGLs and they have this pipeline that’s in service, it’s tested and permitted, and apparently all they have to do is notify PHMSA,” Smith said.

In West Whiteland Township, also in Chester County, construction is on hold pending a safety inspection ordered by the Public Utility Commission on June 14.

West Whiteland Township manager Mimi Gleason said Sunoco told her that using the 12-inch line would “take a little bit of the timing pressure off for getting Mariner 2 and 2X online.”

Gleason said the 12-inch line runs parallel to the existing Mariner East 1, which is already pumping NGLs across the state, and to the ME2 route, which runs for about 3 1/2 miles through the township. She said the older line has been shut down for “quite a while” in West Whiteland.

She said she didn’t know the exact age of the older line but estimated that it was about the same age as Mariner East 1, which was built in the 1930s.

Gleason said township officials have not formed any opinion about whether use of the 12-inch line threatens public safety, and that they are seeking more information from PHMSA about the specifics of Sunoco’s plan, which it outlined in a phone conversation.

The officials in both townships said they have no control over the proposed change in the pipeline project.

The diversion of NGLs into an older pipeline, even for minor portions of the Mariner East route, prompted fresh warnings from pipeline opponents that pumping highly volatile NGLs through densely populated areas like Chester and Delaware represents a risk to public safety.

Eric Friedman, a member of Del-Chesco United for Public Safety, a campaign group in Delaware and Chester counties, said reuse of the old pipeline raises new questions about the project’s safety, and he accused Sunoco of cutting corners to appease its clients.

“I do believe that Sunoco is very much feeling the heat from its investors as a result of its inability to execute and continued accidents,” he said.

Sunoco insists that its pipelines meet or exceed state and federal safety regulations.

Don Vymazal, head of government relations for state Senator Andy Dinniman (D-Chester County), said his office heard from several townships that they had been approached by Sunoco about reuse of the old pipeline, after Dinniman’s outspoken opposition to the project.

Sunoco’s new plan raises questions about whether the 12-inch line is the same as the 12-inch line that Sunoco said leaked gasoline into Darby Creek near Philadelphia about two weeks ago.

“If it’s the same line, it’s concerning, to say the least, to put a product in there that’s very volatile,” Vymazal said.

On June 14, the PUC upheld part of a complaint by Dinniman, calling for a shutdown of Mariner East in West Whiteland on the grounds that the project was a threat to public safety.

The PUC said Sunoco had informed it of its plans for the 12-inch line but declined to provide further details. “PUC was already notified by Sunoco because it is a public utility,” said PUC spokesman David Hixson.