Sunoco resolves pipeline dispute by making a contentious valve station disappear

Pennsylvania regulators lifted a block on construction of Sunoco Pipeline’s controversial Mariner East project in West Goshen Township on Thursday after Sunoco said it no longer needs to build a valve station that has been a bone of contention.

The state Public Utility Commission voted, 3-2, to discontinue an injunction that prohibited the company from building the pipeline in West Goshen, one of the remaining obstacles to Sunoco Pipeline’s completion of its much-delayed Mariner East 2 project, which will transport Marcellus Shale gas liquids to a terminal in Marcus Hook.

After several years of squabbling with West Goshen over the location of the valve station near the intersection of Boot Road and Route 202, Sunoco told the PUC that it had decided it no longer needs to build the facility anywhere in the township.

“This is a substantial win for the township,” said commission member  Norman J. Kennard. “Sunoco has unilaterally resolved the main dispute that spawned the injunction. There’s no longer any threatened activity to enjoin, and the issue of valve construction is moot.”

Rather than rescind the injunction, however, the PUC voted to “discontinue” it  because several issues raised by West Goshen remain unresolved. Gladys Brown, the PUC’s chair, and Andrew Place, the vice chairman, dissented.

“The parties have not settled this case, the township has clearly expressed its intent to continue to pursue this action, and contested issues remain before the commission,” Brown said.

Sunoco’s move to short-circuit the legal blockade came after the PUC in October kept in place an injunction that West Goshen had obtained from a hearing examiner after it said that Sunoco had secretly plotted to move the valve station to a location the township had not agreed to under a 2015 settlement.

Sunoco now says that the valve station in West Goshen “is neither needed operationally nor required by any applicable code or regulation,” and that it has decided to scrap plans to build the facility as a matter of “managerial and construction judgment and discretion.”

“We are pleased with the Public Utility Commission decision today, which will allow us to resume construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline in West Goshen Township,” said Jeffrey Shields, the company’s spokesman. “With mainline pipeline construction approximately 91 percent complete and horizontal directional drilling more than 62 percent complete on Mariner East 2 across the state, we look forward to finishing this critical infrastructure project safely and responsibly.”

Valve stations are safety features that allow the company to shut off flow on the pipeline in case of an emergency. Sunoco plans to install several valves along the pipeline’s 350-mile route.

“They haven’t said what their alternative plan is,” said Richard Sokorai, the township’s lawyer, who had argued with the PUC to keep the injunction in place.

Thursday evening, Shields said that an engineering analysis had determined that a valve was not needed in West Goshen, and that the company did not anticipate adding another valve site.

Camera icon STAFF/File (Ron Tarver)
West Goshen Township had said a valve-control station for Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline should be located at this existing company facility at Boot Road and Route 202.

The $2.5 billion Mariner East project, including upgrades to the Marcus Hook terminal, is aimed at creating an eastern outlet for the production of gas liquids such as propane and ethane from the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations. Much of the material will be exported to petrochemical plants in Europe.

The project has aroused the objections of residents along the route and environmentalists. Representatives of a coalition of pipeline opponents called Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety met with Gov. Wolf on Wednesday and demanded that he halt construction.

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