What is the cost of progress? And who will pay the bill?
Those are the core questions underlying Sunoco’s execution of its Mariner East 2 project, which runs locally underneath Snitz Creek. Now new details have come to light about apparent engineering shortcuts Sunoco is taking in its rush to get the new pipeline capacity up and running.
Sunoco originally intended to complete the Mariner East 2 pipeline as a contiguous piece of engineering, but already much delayed, the company has instead decided to implement a “hybrid” pipeline system to begin delivering capacity in advance of the project’s scheduled completion in 2020. Industry analysts see the move as a remedy to the fact that the project is already 18 months behind schedule.
Following almost the exact same right-of-way as the existing Mariner East 1, this “hybrid” pipeline is confusingly also called Mariner East 2, even though it is a distinct piece of infrastructure from the new 20″ pipeline being built.
Explained a Sunoco representative to StateImpact PA:
As we continue to finish constructing both ME2 and ME2X, we will be able to put the next segment into service by the end of Q3 2019, continuing to use a combination of 12-, 16- and 20-inch pipe. Then we will be able to complete both pipelines, fully 20-inch and fully 16-inch, in Q4 2020.Energy Transfer (ET) spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger (ET is the parent company of Sunoco)
The 12-inch pipe in question was laid by two companies in the 1930’s, the Susquehanna Pipe Line Company and the Keystone Pipe Line Company. Eventually, the Keystone became owned by Atlantic Pipeline Corporation and Susquehanna by Sun Pipe Line Company. In 2002, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approved the transfer of assets of both companies to Sunoco and granted Sunoco authority to transport petroleum products along this right-of-way.
The pipe has been deteriorating since installation. A 1951 article on the pipeline describes how rust and corrosion were removed periodically with a mechanical scraping device.
Sunoco made its internal announcement of the decision to use the 12-inch pipeline over the summer. Here is how a July 2018 employee newsletter described the decision:
A portion of the 12-inch Point Breeze-to-Montello pipeline — which runs from Wallace Township, Chester County, to Middletown Township, Delaware County — will be used as an interim solution while new environmental assessments of potential construction modifications on a selected number of pending horizontal directional drills are completed.
This section of the pipeline underwent a $30 million upgrade in 2016 as part of our ongoing Integrity Management Plan for all our pipelines, which included inline and hydrostatic testing. The result is an upgraded section of pipeline which exceeds the requirements of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PAPUC) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
At Montello, the Point Breeze-to-Montello connects with an 8″ Montello-to-Cornwall pipeline, aka what we call the Mariner East 1. This section of pipe dates to the same period as the 12″ pipe. The Cornwall Pump Station (technically in Quentin/West Cornwall Township) also dates to approximately that same period (1930’s, definitely built by the 1950’s).
In general, pipeline construction has disturbed fragile karst formations that undergird much of Pennsylvania’s terra firma, making the terra less firma. Residents living near the pipeline have said they are terrified. Some residents in West Cornwall have already reported well water contamination. In June, the 12-inch pipe specifically spilled 33,000 gallons of gasoline near the Darby Creek outside Philadelphia.
Although the older 8-inch pipe running through Lebanon County is still used as Mariner East 1, our portion of Mariner East 2 will be using new pipe laid in the past months, as documented by the Lebanon Daily News in this video. Additionally, an “off-take” point is expected to be placed in Heidelberg Township, called the Schaefferstown Tie-In.
By the end of the year, Sunoco says that natural gas liquids will be flowing west-to-east through this new infrastructure.