Mariner East Startup Renews Safety Fears For Some PA Residents

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STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – Lora Snyder was already worried about plans for a natural gas liquids pipeline going past her Delaware County property, but now that the pipeline has started operating, she’s thinking it’s time to sell and move away.

Lora Snyder and Jim McGinn live near the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County. (Jon Hurdle/StateImpact Pennsylvania)

Snyder, a resident of Edgmont Township, fears that the segment of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline — which, on Saturday, began carrying NGLs a few hundred yards from her house — threatens the safety of herself and her husband because of the highly explosive nature of the material, and the leaky history of the pipe itself.

The 12-inch pipe, a repurposed gasoline line originally built in the 1930s, has leaked at least twice before, and Snyder predicts that it will do so again – despite a $30 million upgrade in 2016, according to Sunoco – with potentially catastrophic consequences.

“Our real concern here is that the 12-inch has leaked at least two times that we know of in Edgmont,” said Snyder, 50, in an interview at her home. “I’m fearful. I don’t know how I will sleep at night, truthfully, because of the history of the pipe. The chances are pretty good that we will see another leak soon. Now we have to worry about being blown up.”

Critics’ concerns were renewed over the weekend of Dec. 29-30 when the whole cross-state pipeline finally began pumping ethane, propane and butane after many delays caused by regulatory shutdowns and technical problems during its almost two-year construction.

Sunoco said in a statement on Saturday that the pipeline “is in service” effective that day. The startup meets the company’s latest target of beginning operation by the end of 2018.

After hoping that the project would hit yet another roadblock, critics began to focus on the reality of living with a pipeline that they say could cause mass casualties if it leaks and explodes highly volatile liquids in a densely populated area like Delaware County.

An independent assessment for Delaware County Council said in December that a worst-case rupture of the pipe would kill anyone within about a mile, but that the chance of that happening were less than that of someone dying in a car crash.

Snyder’s husband, Jim McGinn, 55, said he might have felt more comfortable if Mariner East 2 had consisted of a 20-inch pipe, as originally planned, for all of its 350-mile route from western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. But his confidence was knocked when Sunoco said it would use the 12-inch pipe to fill in for about 25 miles of the route in Delaware and Chester counties until the new line could be completed.

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The Andover estate in Thornbury Township, Delaware County, along the route of the Mariner East 2 pipeline which began operating on Dec. 29. A valve site for the pipeline is in the center of the picture. (Eric Friedman/Submitted)

And then the recent explosion of a natural gas gathering line, operated by Sunoco’s parent, Energy Transfer, in Beaver County made him wonder if even a newly constructed pipe would be safe. That pipe, the Revolution pipeline, had been operating for a week when it exploded on Sept. 10.

Snyder said the startup is causing them to think about moving away from the home and its four-acre property where they have lived for 15 years.

“I think it’s time to look at moving,” Snyder said. “We love our home. It’s depressing and upsetting, and it makes me angry that an oil company, for their profits, can ruin your environment, your water and now your home, and make you have to move.”

In response to the complaints from Snyder and other residents, Sunoco said Mariner East 2 meets or exceeds federal safety requirements. It noted that the 12-inch line’s integrity has recently been confirmed by the Public Utility Commission’s head of pipeline safety; by Accufacts, a consultant that concluded in a study for West Goshen Township that ME2 complies with federal standards; and by the analysis for Delaware County Council.

“We have said since the start of the project that the safety of the communities and the environments through which we pass is our first priority, not only in the construction of the pipeline, but throughout its operation,” said Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer.

In nearby Thornbury Township, Jennifer Degnan, her husband Steven, and five of their seven children live in a 4,000 square-foot suburban home about 30 feet from the 12-inch line, and look out of their back door on to a valve site, stacks of artificial paving sections, and lengths of red plastic fencing marking the boundary of the pipeline’s right-of-way.

The Mariner East 2 pipeline will run through Dauphin, Cumberland, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, York and Berks counties.