Conversation on pipeline heating up
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.