The following is a chronological account of the development of Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East Pipeline project over the last five plus years. My source for the majority of this retrospective was meeting minutes from Middletown Township Council sessions, an interesting Sunoco Logistics presentation at an industry conference touting an NGL “export boom” leveraging the Marcus Hook refinery as well as news coverage over the years from State Impact PA (NPR). It’s worth noting that State Impact (NPR) writers have done an admirable job of covering this developing story over the past five plus years by being consistently accurate, informative and unbiased. Well done State Impact.
What you will find throughout this chronological timeline is consistent and unwavering support of this project from Sunoco Logistics as well as local and state elected officials touting the economic benefits that it will provide. What you won’t find throughout this chronological timeline is any reference to the dangers of the project and the tremendous safety risk to the community. There was no risk assessment or emergency response planning for the majority of the project’s development. Only when concerned citizens raised potential risks repeatedly, did any local or state officials act. Remember that as you read. March 2012
The borough of Marcus Hook and the economic future of Delaware County were facing a crisis as Sunoco had recently announced its intent to close its Marcus Hook refinery, which would eliminate 500 well-paying jobs at the refinery, and many more related positions in the county. Realizing the need to take a proactive approach, Delaware County Council requested that the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) conduct an analysis of how to repurpose the former Marcus Hook refinery. The IDA in turn hired IHS Consultants, based in Colorado, with a local office in Philadelphia to conduct an analysis of how to revitalize the Marcus Hook refinery.
The analysis by IHS did not include any assessment of risk or harm to local residents or a corresponding emergency response plan to address said risks. June 2012
The IHS study is released and identifies 7 best uses for the Marcus Hook refinery site; five were energy-based alternatives and two were NGL based. The consultants at IHS recommended converting the Marcus Hook refinery into a plant for processing NGLs because it would be cheaper to process these materials for shipment overseas. Delaware County officials agree and quickly select the NGL option.
The decision by Delaware County officials did not include any assessment of risk or harm to local residents or a corresponding emergency response plan to address said risks. April 2014
Jeff Davis from Sunoco Logistics points out at an NGL industry conference presentation that Marcus Hook had a clear advantage in shipping NGLs to Europe given its east coast location vs. other gulf coast facilities. The majority of the NGL demand would be in European countries initially since most have banned fracking (ex. Scotland).
The presentation by Sunoco Logistics did not include any assessment of risk or harm to local residents or a corresponding emergency response plan to address said risks.
September to December 2014
In September of 2014 Middletown Township Council approves a Sunoco utility easement agreement at 236 Glen Riddle Road near Tunbridge Apartments. The following month at a Middletown Township Council meeting in October of 2014, Sister Kathleen Parisi references recent construction at Tunbridge Apartments and said it felt and sounded like Sunoco was building a "mini Marcus Hook". Sister Parisi raises the issue again to Middletown Township Council a month later in November of 2014 and is told it is for an above ground pumping station, not for refining or processing purposes, but was to be the location of a "switching process" for transferring product from one Pipeline to another. In December of 2014 Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 1 pipeline begins shipping NGLs and currently transports 70,000 barrels of propane and ethane per day.
No Delaware County officials, not Delaware County Council, not Middletown Township Council, or any other township councils along the ME pipeline routes request at that time an assessment of risk or harm to local residents or a corresponding emergency response plan to address said risks.
The Middletown Township Land Planning Committee meets with Sunoco Logistics to discuss the new ME2 pipeline route. In a Middletown Township Council meeting that month Don Zoladkiewicz from Sunoco acknowledges the contents of Mariner 1 (liquid pipeline, natural gas, ethane may be added). He goes onto explain that Mariner 2 is a new project originating in Ohio and that product would be moved via pipeline to Marcus Hook. Zoladkiewicz is asked by council if Mariner 2 would be coming through Middletown and he stated that multiple options being considered, but no final decision has been made. No Delaware County officials, not Delaware County Council, not Middletown Township Council, or any other township councils along the ME pipeline routes request at that time an assessment of risk or harm to local residents or a corresponding emergency response plan to address said risks.
Despite the objection of over 200 Middletown Township residents in attendance, Middletown Township Council votes unanimously 6-0 to approve the sale of township owned easements to Sunoco Logistics for $1.8M. Middletown Township Council then proceeds to read aloud a resolution of concern that was drafted by a recently formed citizens group called the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, announcing that $100k of the $1.8M will be used for a formal risk assessment and emergency response plan to address the inherit risks identified in the resolution of concern. Chris Quinn, who was on Middletown Township Council representing District 4 from 2008 to September 2016, excused himself from the September 26th vote given that he had been recently appointed, via special election, to serve as a Pennsylvania State Representative 168th District, which includes many of the townships along the Mariner 1 and Mariner 2 route including Middletown, Edgemont and Thornbury. State Representative Quinn also currently serves as the Vice Treasurer for the aforementioned Industrial Development Authority since his appointment in April of 2015. Since the September 26th vote three members of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety have announced their intentions to run for Township Council in November, including myself, Lori Cartwright Bartholomew and Allyson Galloway.
Despite initially committing to work with four Middletown Township residents (all part of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety) to complete the risk assessment and emergency response plan, Middletown Township Council has yet to complete the risk assessment and corresponding emergency response plan. Middletown Township Council is now working with Delaware County Emergency Management to complete the emergency response plan and Middletown Township Council is also proceeding with the risk assessment, but has made clear that the findings of this study may not be made available to the public once completed.
On November 16, four members of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety (Susan Birkhoff, Eric Friedman, Bibianna Dussling and Seth Kovnat) testify before the House and Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committees in Harrisburg urging them to act. Here is an excerpt from the testimony delivered by MCCS members:
“The primary function of government is to reasonably provide for public safety. With regard to oil and gas infrastructure, our State and Federal governments use a complex regulatory framework to ensure public safety. These regulations are particularly important with regard to pipelines that transport materials over many thousands of miles, and in close proximity to residents, schools, hospitals, and other vulnerable sites. As the existing infrastructure expands, and new pipelines are planned for densely populated communities, it is imperative to determine if such pipelines are properly classified within the existing regulatory framework, or whether additional regulations are required to ensure public safety. An examination of existing emergency preparedness plans and capabilities is also necessary to determine whether additional resources are needed to address new and emerging technologies, or if a project must be re-engineered, rerouted, or re-planned in order to provide reasonable assurances to public health and safety… In order to make reasonable assurances for the preservation of public safety, Mariner East 2, and other Natural Gas Liquids lines must be properly classified at the federal and state level, with appropriate siting, independent 3rd party risk assessment and impact studies, and credible plans for emergency notification and evacuation at the planning stages of the pipeline.” Bibianna Dussling, a veteran Navy helicopter pilot and emergency preparedness officer who lives with her family in Middletown, said, “I cannot, in good conscience, send my child to school nor remain in our community without such issues resolved, any more than I could embark upon a mission with unacceptable risks to my air crew. “If I could not mitigate such risks,” she said, “it was my duty to cancel the mission.”
Members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committees have yet to act based on the testimony that was provided by MCCS in November. That same month, Delaware County Chamber of Commerce selects Sunoco Logistics as their 2016 Company of the Year.
Sunoco Logistics announced there were 20 jobs with $80,000 annual salaries available at the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex Tuesday, which will result in a total facility yearly payroll of $16 million.
“These jobs that we’re talking about today, in addition to the 2,200 construction jobs, will put us over 200 full-time permanent jobs at the facility,” said Joseph McGinn, Senior Manager, Public Affairs for Sunoco Logistics. “We believe that this, again, is just scratching the surface with Mariner East.”
In a recent Op-Ed piece to the Delaware County Daily Times, Trish McFarland, President of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, makes the following statement: “We applaud the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The process was unprecedented and thorough. All parties had ample opportunity to share their perspective. Once built, this state-of-the-art pipeline system will carry natural gas liquids such as propane, ethane, and butane products that are central to heating and powering our homes and businesses. An additional 675,000 barrels of natural gas liquids would be delivered each day to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex and would boost the region’s propane reserves giving us a surplus of propane when it’s most needed – during the peak heating season. It will do so safely and with the utmost respect for our land and communities. For more than two years, Sunoco Logistics has worked with the public to come up with a plan that minimizes impacts to the environment, protected species and cultural resources. They have proven themselves to be a responsible and reliable partner. From an economic standpoint, the Mariner East projects are estimated to generate $4.2 billion to the Pennsylvania economy and support over 30,000 new jobs during the construction phase, and hundreds of permanent positions. The additional processing facilities under discussion would expand that potential job creation and attract even more new investment and manufacturing to the state.”
To date, no Delaware County officials, not Delaware County Council, nor the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, have completed an official assessment of risk or harm to local residents or a corresponding emergency response plan to address said risks.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection issues final permits for the Mariner East 2 pipeline even though the pipeline’s builder, Sunoco Logistics, had not met all regulatory requirements at the time of issuance, DEP documents show. The state’s top environmental regulator acknowledged that the company’s applications for permits on water crossings and soil disturbance contained many “deficiencies,” but gave the multi-billion dollar project a green light anyway, according to the documents obtained by State Impact. Allegations that the Governor’s office directed DEP to issue the permits despite the deficiencies has led to a scheduled meeting between a bipartisan group of state lawmakers and the DEP’s Acting Secretary, Patrick McDonnell, on March 22nd. The meeting was called by Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, who said she wanted to hear from McDonnell about how, or whether, Sunoco had corrected hundreds of deficiencies in its application. Asked whether any deficiencies may remain, Krueger-Braneky said she wants to understand what happened between December 5th, when Sunoco submitted its revised applications, and February 13th, when the permits were issued.
In that same piece done by State Impact, Rep. Quinn said he will attend the March 22nd meeting because of pressure from members of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, a local anti-pipeline group, who claim the DEP was pressed by Governor Wolf’s office to approve the project despite its technical shortcomings. “If the governor prodded this thing through, then the public has a right to know that,” Quinn said. He wants to be sure that DEP officials “dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s” before issuing the permits.
Delaware County Community College announces a $100,000 grant from Sunoco Logistics, which will help fund training and education of students for careers in process control technology.
Over five years has passed since the initial IHS study and it seems our state and local leaders have exerted more effort into expediting the ME2 pipelines into existence for economic benefit than quantifying the risks. First, Pennsylvania stripped itself of all power to regulate oil and gas infrastructure with ACT 13 and the designation of NGLs as a public utility. Then they gave Sunoco Logistics’ the power of eminent domain, despite Mariner East being an export pipeline, allowing the company to misinform, bully, and threaten property owners and municipalities along their Right of Way. And most recently as you’ve already read, the PA Department of Environmental Protection was politically pressured to approve clearly deficient permits, allowing pipeline installation to commence. All the while, the state and local leadership have continued to support a Sunoco Logistics’ Public Relations campaign that pits jobs (primarily union jobs) against public safety; pitting neighbor against neighbor.
With installation now underway, this type of pipeline poses unique hazards significantly greater than typical Natural Gas pipelines making the chosen route unprecedented, given that it will traverse through the heart of suburban Philadelphia just feet from many residences, schools and businesses. Sunoco's reported leak rate since 2006 of .0055 leaks per mile per year statistically predicts an ME2 pipeline leak once every 6 months along its 350 mile route, providing plenty of opportunities for multiple disaster scenarios to take place. Therefore, it is abundantly clear that the Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 project poses a clear and present safety threat to the region and must be further evaluated for risk before being allowed to continue. I’ll leave you with a few quotes from our Pennsylvania elected officials (or news sources reporting their comments) in full support of PA pipeline related projects, and their economic benefits, without a single mention of the inherit risks. “The announcement was applauded by state Sens. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown, and Tom McGarrigle, R-26 of Springfield, labor leaders and members of the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, a coalition of labor, agriculture, manufacturing and other business interests including the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce. Mariner 2 is an approximately $2.5 billion infrastructure project that will support more than 15,000 jobs annually during a two year-period and once completed, have a $150 million annual impact on Pennsylvania’s economy.”, according to the senators’ joint press release.
"It’s not often that a private project comes along that provides the opportunity to offer employment to tens of thousands of Pennsylvania residents, facilitate our state’s economic growth, as well as give our consumers and businesses growing access to affordable, abundant and clean energy sources. That is precisely what the Mariner East 2 pipeline will provide and why the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce fully supports its construction." - Trish McFarland, Delaware County Chamber of Commerce
“Pennsylvania boasts tremendous natural gas resources, and it makes sense that our residents should benefit from the assets right under their feet. Doing so will also have a significant impact on the economic well-being of the commonwealth by creating jobs and making low-cost natural gas more readily available.” - Current PA Governor Tom Wolf
"The Corbett Administration says it is working hard to market other aspects of the shuttered refinery to natural gas processors and bring back the hundreds of jobs lost in southeast Pennsylvania." - Susan Phillips, State Impact
“I don’t apologize at all. I'm a strong advocate of continuing to frack.” - Former PA Governor Ed Rendell
photo credit: Andrew Fallon