Con­ver­sa­tion on pipe­line heat­ing up

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

It’s now be­come ap­par­ent that if Sunoco Lo­gis­tics is suc­cess­ful in get­ting ap­proval for its mas­sive Marine East 2 pipe­line, it is not go­ing to be with­out se­ri­ous pub­lic dis­cus­sion.

That is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing.

Middletown residents packed a re­cent town­ship coun­cil meet­ing to voice their con­cerns about the pro­posed pipe­line, which would ferry thou­sands of bar­rels of volatile chem­i­cals from the Mar­cel­lus Shale re­gion of Penn­syl­va­nia to the former Sunoco re­fin­ery at Mar­cus Hook.

The project has the po­ten­tial to be an eco­nomic bo­nanza for the re­gion, pos­si­bly even turn­ing Mar­cus Hook, which just a few years ago was star­ing into the abyss when Sunoco an­nounced its in­ten­tion to shut­ter its iconic plant and get out of the re­fin­ery busi­ness, into an en­ergy hub for the en­tire North­east.

That’s not nec­es­sar­ily what was on the minds of Middletown residents who pep­pered coun­cil with their con­cerns, urg­ing the board to take a long, hard look at the project and its ef­fect on life in the town­ship.

Iron­i­cally, residents in Middletown have been liv­ing with pipe­lines for decades, a rem­nant of Sunoco’s glory days as a re­fin­ing pow­er­house. Mariner East 2 would build two ad­di­tional pipe­lines, roughly ad­ja­cent to those al­ready in place. The ex­ist­ing pipe­line is al­ready de­liv­er­ing bu­tane, eth­ane and propane to Mar­cus Hook. But Mariner East 2 would be a mas­sive in­crease in the amount of ma­te­rial flow­ing to Mar­cus Hook. Once Mariner East 2 is fully im­ple­mented, as much as 450,000 bar­rels of the volatile gases would be flow­ing un­der the town­ship.

Middletown gave Sunoco Lo­gis­tics an ini­tial ap­proval for a per­ma­nent ease­ment in­volv­ing sev­eral town­ship parcels, one of which would run next to Glen­wood El­e­men­tary School.

Residents urged coun­cil to hold off while study­ing the pos­si­ble risks and other ef­fects. They have gal­va­nized into the Middletown Coali­tion for Com­mu­nity Safety and paid for their own in­de­pen­dent study of the pro­posal. That re­port, by hy­dro­ge­ol­o­gist Paul A. Ru­bin, warned of the dan­gers to the com­mu­nity in the event of a leak, or worse ex­plo­sion, along the line.

“Place­ment of pipe­lines con­duct­ing ex­plo­sive gases in densely pop­u­lated ar­eas presents a worse-case sce­nario – mul­ti­ple cat­a­strophic dis­as­ters that may oc­cur at any time of day or night,” the re­port in­di­cated.

Town­ship res­i­dent Ge­orge Siter at­tended the meet­ing and ze­roed in on the is­sue of hav­ing a pipe­line con­tain­ing these kinds of ma­te­ri­als that close to an el­e­men­tary school.

He wasn’t the only one with con­cerns.

And that’s not Sunoco Lo­gis­tics’ only ob­sta­cle.

The state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion has or­dered the com­pany to make changes to its ap­pli­ca­tion in terms of the wa­ter­ways and wet­lands it will need to cross.

Matthew Gor­don un­der­stands the residents’ con­cerns. He’s the project man­ager for Mariner East 2 and he at­tended the Middletown meet­ing in an at­tempt to as­suage their feel­ings. He stressed safety pro­ce­dures, both dur­ing con­struc­tion and then once the pipe­line goes on­line. He of­fered de­tails on how the pipe­line is mon­i­tored for any sign of a prob­lem, as well as main­te­nance pro­ce­dures de­sign to em­pha­size safety.

Middletown is sched­ule to take a fi­nal vote on the ease­ments at its Sept. 26 meet­ing.

Last week groups also ap­proached Me­dia Bor­ough Coun­cil and asked it to re­con­sider its sup­port for the project.

It’s likely a de­bate that will take place all across the state, fol­low­ing the path of the Mariner East 3 pipe­line.

Mariner East 2 will travel 350 miles from the Mar­cel­lus Shale re­gion to Mar­cus Hook. Of that span, 11.4 miles will dis­sect the western part of Delaware County.

It is a mas­sive project, with a huge eco­nomic up­side, and yes, with some risks.

It’s now be­ing talked about in board­rooms – along with fam­ily din­ner ta­bles.

A de­ci­sion this im­por­tant should not be se­creted away, de­cided be­hind closed doors and then rolled out on an un­aware cit­i­zenry when it is too late to make their con­cerns known.

To its credit, Sunoco Lo­gis­tics has held pub­lic hear­ings in sev­eral spots across the state. Middletown coun­cil has lis­tened to residents’ con­cerns, as well as words of praise from the Cham­ber of Com­merce and unions who see the eco­nomic up­side to the project.

All of this is a good thing. Keep the con­ver­sa­tion go­ing.

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