Continued problems with Sunoco’s Mariner East project, and the company’s failure to fix problems related to a line in western Pennsylvania, have raised the profile of legislation that has stalled in the past.
Mariner East: A pipeline project plagued by mishaps and delays
Sunoco Logistics Mariner East pipeline project includes three lines — the Mariner East 1, the Mariner East 2, and the Mariner East 2X, all of which carry or will soon carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) from the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania across the state to a processing and export terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
In 2014, Sunoco completed its conversion of a gasoline pipeline originally built in the 1930’s to ship gas from Philadelphia area refineries to rural Pennsylvania. Reversing the flow of the 8-inch line, Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 now carries NGLs across Pennsylvania to its suburban Philadelphia facility where it is shipped overseas to manufacture plastics.
The Mariner East 2 would expand capacity to 345,000 barrels of NGLs a day. The 20-inch diameter high pressure pipeline tunnels beneath 17 counties, cuts through 2,700 properties with a 50-foot right-of-way, and crosses more than 1,200 streams or wetlands. The company used eminent domain procedings to secure right-of-ways from reluctant landowners, including one family in Huntingdon County that sat in their trees to protest the pipeline construction. Dozens of landowners are still tied up in litigation with the company and the state Supreme Court could decide to hear the cases.
Construction on the $2.5 billion project began in February 2017, after the Department of Environmental Protection identified hundreds of deficiencies in its water-crossing and earth-moving permits. Since then the DEP has issued more than 60 violations to the company for polluting wetlands, waterways, and destroying about a dozen private water wells. In the summer of 2017, DEP, along with several environmental groups, agreed to a consent decree with Sunoco after dozens of drilling mud spills led to the pollution of high value wetlands and trout streams, and the loss of drinking water for residents of a Chester County community.
In April, 2017 Sunoco Logistics merged with Energy Transfer Partners, the builder of the controversial Dakota Access line. Completion of the line is now about 18 months behind its original schedule. The Mariner East 2X is a 16-inch NGL line that will run parallel to the ME2.
In March 2018 Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission ordered a temporary shutdown of the Mariner East 1, saying it could have a “catastrophic” effect on public safety if it leaks. The commission said the pipeline had been exposed by the appearance of sinkholes near the construction of the two other Mariner pipelines. On May 3, 2018 the PUC allowed NGL’s to flow through the pipeline after their inspectors reported the sink holes did not pose a threat to public safety.
PA DEP halts new pipeline permits for Mariner East, cites ongoing violations with Revolution pipeline
The DEP says Energy Transfer, which is the parent company of Sunoco, failed to fix problems after an explosion rocked Beaver County in September.
Sinkholes in early 2018 exposed a section of Mariner East 1, prompting a Public Utility Commission administrative law judge to shut down the pipe and halt construction of two new lines, citing an “imminent risk” to the public.
Many who live in the densely-populated southeastern Pennsylvania area have opposed the pipeline project. Now that natural gas liquids are running through the line, one resident says she doesn’t know how she’ll sleep at night.
The project faced multiple regulatory setbacks and was already 18 months behind schedule when it missed a September start-up target. It still faces a hearing before the PUC and a criminal investigation by the Chester County district attorney.
After multiple delays, Sunoco has said it is on target to start operations of the controversial pipeline by end of 2018.
The district attorney said a recent pipeline explosion in Beaver County, and a visit to see where sinkholes opened last year at a pipeline construction site, prompted him to act.