Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. announced Thursday that it will build an enormous, $2.5 billion pipeline project that will quadruple the volume of Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids moving through the Philadelphia area.
The Mariner East 2 project, the second phase of a plan to move materials like propane, butane, and ethane from Appalachian shale-gas fields, would dramatically expand industrial activity at the company's Marcus Hook Industrial Complex.
Sunoco Logistics said it would build a pipeline at least 16 inches in diameter to follow the route of its first Mariner East project, an 83-year-old fuel pipeline crossing Pennsylvania that the company is repurposing to carry liquids to Marcus Hook.
Industry and political leaders have rallied behind the Mariner East projects as a way to closely tie Philadelphia to the Marcellus Shale region, which now accounts for nearly a quarter of the nation's natural gas production.
"This is tremendous news for our regional economy and energy workers," said U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.), whose district includes Marcus Hook.
Residents in the shale-gas production areas and those who live along a rapidly growing network of pipeline corridors have objected that they bear a disproportionate cost for the energy boom.
The first Mariner East project has aroused fierce opposition in several Chester County communities that the pipeline runs through. Environmental activists also worry that the pipeline will enable the revival of pollution-emitting industries along the Delaware waterfront.
"I'm concerned that the company is ramming these projects through communities as fast as possible and without any regard to their concerns," said Joseph Otis Minott, head of the Clean Air Council. He called Sunoco Logistics a "bad actor and a bad neighbor" for its ongoing effort to bypass zoning boards to build facilities along the route of the Mariner East 1 project.
Sunoco Logistics has been talking publicly for more than a year about expanding capacity to deliver materials to Marcus Hook. Survey crews have reached out to landowners in towns like West Goshen, East Goshen, Upper Uwchlan, and Wallace Townships with the aim of widening rights-of-way to accommodate the new pipeline.
345,000 barrels daily
Mariner East 2 is expected to deliver 275,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids (NGL) to Marcus Hook. Combined with Mariner East 1's capacity of 70,000 barrels per day, the pipelines will provide 345,000 barrels per day from the shale regions. A barrel contains 42 gallons.
That means the Marcus Hook complex will be handling double the volume of fuel it processed during its previous lifetime as a Sunoco oil refinery. The refinery, which had a capacity of 175,000 barrels of crude oil a day, closed in 2012 and is being dismantled to make way for the Marcellus energy hub.
The company said it expected Mariner East 2 to begin operations by the end of 2016, subject to regulatory and permit approvals.
Initially, most of the ethane, propane, and butane delivered to Marcus Hook would be loaded on ships and exported. Some propane would be sold to local markets or shipped by barge to Northeastern markets.
Business and industrial leaders hope the projects will boost the expansion of manufacturing. Natural gas liquids are used mostly as a raw material in petrochemical production.
"This vital energy project will provide a comprehensive solution in the region to transport, store, and process NGLs from the Marcellus and Utica Shales, and will provide the foundation for the continuing rebirth of the local manufacturing sector," said Michael J. Hennigan, Sunoco Logistics chief executive.
"The project also enables the continuing development of the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex, as we convert a former refinery site into a world-class natural gas liquids hub in Southeastern Pennsylvania," he said.
In its announcement Thursday, Sunoco Logistics said it was also "actively developing" a natural gas liquids manufacturing complex at an 800-acre Marcus Hook property, including propane dehydrogenation to manufacture propylene.
The company offered no details on the propylene project, but one potential customer is adjacent to the property. Braskem America operates a polypropylene plant that uses propylene as its primary raw material. Polypropylene is a type of plastic with broad uses.
In a conference call with investment analysts, Hennigan lauded the possibilities for the Marcus Hook site, where the project calls for construction of capacity to refrigerate and store NGLs. Gases like ethane and propane need to be chilled or kept under pressure to stay in liquid form.
"We don't see any limitations on expansion capability," he said.
The Mariner East 2 pipeline will be about 350 miles long, originating at intake points from producers in eastern Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania, with Scio, Ohio, being the westernmost origin.
Pipelines like the Mariner East project are regulated by a hodgepodge of state and federal agencies, a source of frustration to residents and activists trying to oppose them. Regulators are reluctant to disclose many details about routes, citing homeland security issues.
Sunoco says its pipeline construction and operations must conform to safety rules of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. But neither agency governs the siting of the pipelines.
As a public utility corporation - a designation that some residents on pipeline routes have challenged - Sunoco says, it is allowed to take right-of-way by eminent domain.
The pipeline's route can be affected by the reviews it will undergo with a host of federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will review the project and will decide whether its rates are justified.
The company, in touting the economic effects of its investment, compared the $3 billion it is spending in Pennsylvania on various Mariner projects to the cost of building about six Lincoln Financial Fields.
Sunoco Logistics says there is high demand from gas producers to find markets for the natural gas liquids. It is competing with other pipeline operators that want to transport Appalachian ethane to the Gulf Coast, where the material is in demand by exporters and from petrochemical producers.
Sunoco recently held an "open season" for shippers to commit to buy capacity for the Mariner East 2 project.
Austrian petrochemical company Borealis announced in August that it had signed a 10-year contract to ship ethane from Marcus Hook to a Swedish plant it owns. It is buying its ethane from Antero Resources Corp., a shale-gas producer, which announced in July that it is an anchor shipper on the Mariner East 2 project for 51,500 barrels a day of ethane, propane, and butane.
The primary customer for the first Mariner East project is INEOS Europe, which in 2012 signed a 15-year agreement to ship Marcellus Shale ethane to Norway.
Sunoco Logistics has not identified other shippers that have contracted to use the pipeline. Sunoco serves as the delivery agency for the material, and collects a fee on every barrel it delivers.
BY THE NUMBERS
Cost of building
the Mariner East 2 pipeline.
Length of pipeline
in miles. Intake points would be in Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pa.
Number of barrels of natural gas liquids that would be delivered per day
to Marcus Hook.