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.
An independent consultant’s risk assessment said someone would be more likely to die from falling down stairs than in a pipeline explosion. Yet a leak would be more likely to ignite in a densely populated area because there are more ignition sources.
An administrative law judge for the state Public Utility Commission heard a second day of testimony Friday on whether to continue to allow operation of the controversial Mariner East pipelines while she reviews a request that the lines be permanently shut down. Several residents say Sunoco’s public awareness plan in the event of a leak is inadequate.
The line, built in the 1930s and upgraded in 2016, is among three that Sunoco plans to use as a substitute for Mariner East 2 while construction on that project is finished. Three school superintendents had asked PUC to help assess the line’s safety.
The company has joined three different lines to create a cross-state route for natural gas liquids. It says it will be able to fulfill customer orders.
The cross-state natural gas liquids pipeline Mariner East 2 was supposed to begin operation by the end of September. Now, the company has come up with a workaround after acknowledging another lengthy delay in its pipeline project.