Ethane Pipelines: Mariner East Construction Resumes; Mariner West “Open Season” for Ethane to Canada

by Duane Nichols on February 5, 2020

Open Trench Method not acceptable to Chester County

Judge Denies Chester County Request for Injunction Against Mariner Pipeline

From an Article by Michael P. Rellahan, Daily Local News, Chester County. PA, January 23, 2020

WEST CHESTER — A Chester County Common Pleas Court judge on January 23rd denied the county’s request for an injunction against Sunoco Pipeline to halt construction on the controversial Mariner East 2 project on two county-owned properties after deciding he did not have the authority to decide the case.

Judge Edward Griffith issued a terse ruling after an hour-long hearing involving attorneys from the county and the pipeline company, saying that he did not have “subject matter jurisdiction” to rule on the matter. He issued no explanation, but his decision effectively means that work on the pipeline at the Chester County Library and Chester Valley Trail can start tomorrow.

A spokeswomen for Energy Transfers, Sunoco’s parent company, company Vice President Vicki Anderson Granado, hailed the decision and indicated that work would begin soon.

The county commissioners, who had filed the request for an emergency injunction last week after being notified by Sunoco that work would commence at their properties on Friday, issued the following statement after Griffith’s ruling.

“The county is disappointed with the court’s ruling and is exploring all legal options that remain available to ensure that Sunoco Pipeline LP adheres to the provisions and terms of the easement that Sunoco drafted,” it read.

But since the judge essentially accepted Sunoco’s argument that the case involves permitting questions involving the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and approvals by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), neither of which was included in the county’s injunction request. Thus, the county’s attempt to put a stop to the work was flawed and should be rejected.

Lead attorney Robert L. Byer of the Philadelphia law firm of Duane Morris, noted that the PA DEP and the PA PUC both had given permission for the pipeline to be built and that the company’s use of the “open-trench” construction method was justified in order to protect the public water supply.

Louis Kupperman, the attorney from the West Chester law firm of Buckley, Brion, Morris & McGuire, on the other hand, urged Griffith to find that the issue at hand was purely a contract dispute, over which he had authority, between the county and Sunoco involving a provision in the county’s easement that it have a say in what type of construction method is used in the pipeline as it crossed the library and trail property.

In the hearing, Judge Griffith peppered both sides with questions about the legal case, but also about Sunoco’s need to hasten project construction. The company had been granted permission to resume construction by the PA DEP earlier this month after it levied a $30 million fine against its parent company, Energy Transfer Inc. of Texas. “What’s the rush?”

Mariner East goes 23 miles through the heart of Chester County – including the two county-owned plots — and then another 11 miles through western Delaware County. Eventually, the pipeline will transport hundreds of thousands of barrels of volatile liquid natural gases from the state’s Marcellus Shale region to a facility in Marcus Hook. It has drawn severe attacks from local governments, environmental activists, and residents in both counties.

The project has been plagued by spills and runoffs, while work has been halted several times by the state. Pennsylvania also has slapped millions in fines against the company, but has been unable to stop the multi-billion dollar project, which has the support of labor groups, the chamber of commerce and some public officials.

More than 80 years ago, Sunoco LP’s predecessors acquired a pipeline right-of-way over privately owned lands in West Whiteland. The county subsequently purchased portions of the land, and in February 2017, Sunoco sought supplemental easements for the properties.

Those supplemental easements required Sunoco to install its pipelines using road bore method or horizontal directional drilling method, which would not disturb the surface of the property, or use the traditional open-trench method should conditions necessitate it, according to the county.

The easements stated that the open-trench method of construction may not proceed unless Sunoco provided substantial evidence to the county that conditions beyond Sunoco’s reasonable control necessitate the use of the open-trench method, or that Sunoco received written permission from the county, according to the commissioners’ motion.

However, the company has responded that the county’s suit cannot proceed because it does not list as parties to the action either the PA DEP, which issued approval of the construction permits initially and again this month, and the state Public Utilities Commission, which certified the pipeline project as a public service. Those are the agencies that granted approval for the type of construction, and the county cannot counter their decisions, the company attorneys wrote.

“The county’s petition flatly ignores that the permanent easements specifically contemplate the use of the ‘open-trench’ method,” the company’s motion to dismiss the petition for an injunction stated. “They do not require the county’s written consent to the change.”

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Major Ethane Pipeline Seeking Customers

From a Notice by Paul J. Gough, Pittsburgh Business Journal, February 3, 2020

A major pipeline between Washington County (PA) and Ontario, Canada, is seeking customers that would want to ship ethane.

Energy Transfer LP said it had declared open season for the Mariner West pipeline, which connects the MarkWest plant in Houston, PA, to Michigan and near the industrial center of Sarnia, Ontario.

The binding open season solicits customers for a pipeline, where the companies will be guaranteed transportation of their fluids — in this case, natural gas byproduct ethane — to a certain point.

Mariner West is a project of Sunoco Pipeline LP, a division of Energy Transfer. The 395-mile pipeline, which started operations in late 2013, carries Marcellus Shale ethane from Houston, PA, and other points in Pennsylvania to Marysville, Michigan. It has a capacity of 50,000 barrels a day of ethane.

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