Pipe­line de­bate can’t be avoided in lo­cal coun­ties

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - OPINION -

The bat­tle lines have been drawn.

The ev­i­dence is clearly dis­cernible, and it’s not pretty. Clear­ing the way for a pipe­line rarely is. Mariner East 2 is com­ing. Con­struc­tion is un­der­way for Sunoco Lo­gis­tics’ pipe­line, a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing that lit­er­ally will tra­verse the 350-mile width of Penn­syl­va­nia.

When it is up and run­ning, Mariner East 2 will de­liver as much as 350,000 bar­rels of Mar­cel­lus Shale prod­ucts such as eth­ane, propane and bu­tane to the for­mer Sunoco re­fin­ery in Mar­cus Hook.

But to get there it first has to tra­verse a path through the re­gion, most no­tice­ably in Ch­ester and Delaware coun­ties.

Through de­vel­op­ments, apart­ment com­plexes, and in close prox­im­ity to el­e­men­tary schools.

If the con­struc­tion un­der­way to make room for the pipe­line is ugly, and there re­ally is no other way to de­scribe it, the heated rhetoric sur­round­ing the project is be­gin­ning to match it.

Bot­tom line, while many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and school dis­tricts signed off on this deal early, tak­ing Sunoco Lo­gis­tics’ money in the process, more and more peo­ple in the com­mu­nity are be­gin­ning to ques­tion the project, and the en­tire no­tion of run­ning th­ese kinds of com­bustible ma­te­ri­als un­der high pres­sure through densely pop­u­lated ar­eas.

They want to know what should hap­pen in the event of a leak, or, God for­bid, an ex­plo­sion.

The an­swers are even more ugly than the earthmoving project cur­rently un­der­way to make room for the pipe­line.

This week more than 350 res­i­dents packed a meet­ing in East Goshen in Ch­ester County.

Many sounded the same kind of alarm as has been pushed in Delaware County for months, ques­tion­ing the safety of such a pro­posal.

Per­haps East Goshen res­i­dent Mary McCloskey broke it down to its sim­plest form.

“I don’t feel safe,” she told the panel, in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Sunoco.

As you might guess, that sen­ti­ment is not shared by Sunoco Lo­gis­tics, which has re­peat­edly in­sisted con­struc­tion and se­cu­rity of the pipe­line is a top com­pany con­cern. It should also be noted that Mariner East 1, uti­liz­ing the same pipe­line that Sunoco used for decades to de­liver oil, al­ready is de­liv­er­ing th­ese same types of gases safely. Granted, Mariner East 2, and the mount of ma­te­rial be­ing moved, will up that ante con­sid­er­ably.

Then there is the eco­nomic as­pect. It is not one to be ig­nored. Mariner East 2 al­ready is pro­vid­ing hun­dreds of good-pay­ing job. A new re­port out this week lauded the po­ten­tial of the nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try in Penn­syl­va­nia, say­ing the in­dus­try was con­tribut­ing $24.5 bil­lion to the state’s econ­omy. Cur­rently there are 178,000 jobs in the Key­stone State tied to nat­u­ral gas. That’s 3.1 per­cent of all jobs in the state. By the year 2040, in­dus­try an­a­lysts sug­gest 6 mil­lion jobs could be cre­ated in the state.

The Cham­ber of Com­merce and lo­cal of­fi­cials are back­ing the pipe­line plan, while oth­ers protest on the grounds of safety.

The ques­tion is one no one re­ally wants to think about, let alone an­swer: “What if….”

Sev­eral prop­erty own­ers in Delaware County tried tak­ing Sunoco to court, claim­ing the pipe­line vi­o­lated town­ship zon­ing codes, but the case was thrown out.

The con­cerns of the com­mu­nity have reached the ears of some leg­is­la­tors.

This week state Sen. Tom Kil­lion, R-9, said he would in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion that would al­low some of the im­pact fees paid by the nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try to be di­rected to com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by the pipe­line so they can ad­e­quately ad­dress pub­lic safety needs.

The de­bate over Mariner East 2, and whether it’s a good idea to build it in densely pop­u­lated ar­eas, is not go­ing to go away any­time soon.

By the looks of the work cur­rently go­ing on, it’s not go­ing to stop the plan ei­ther.

The chal­lenge now is to make sure it is safe – both now and in the fu­ture.

And mak­ing sure Penn­syl­va­nia gets its money’s worth – in the form of a real sev­er­ance tax – would not be a bad idea ei­ther.

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