Time to let Sunoco proceed with pipeline

February 15, 2017
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

Late in the day Monday, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced that it had issued the necessary permits for Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 pipeline to be constructed across the southern tier of the state. The ink was barely dry on the agency’s news release (if anyone really uses ink anymore) when environmental groups made their latest attempt to obstruct the project.

For those not familiar, Mariner East 2 will carry natural gas liquids such as butane and propane from Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, Ohio and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook industrial complex in southeastern Pennsylvania. It will originate at the MarkWest natural gas processing plant in Chartiers Township and is expected to cost $2.5 billion.

It is an investment that promises to provide a huge boost to the economy of our area, and it is our opinion, and that of the state DEP, that the pipeline project has been very thoroughly vetted.

Said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, “I am proud of the immense undertaking our staff took to hold this project accountable within the confines of state law and DEP’s role in this process over the last few years. This was a huge undertaking – holding five hearings during a 60-day comment period, reviewing permit applications and technical deficiencies for more than 20,000 hours, responding to 29,000 comments and ensuring Sunoco addressed deficiences identified in its initial application.”

This whole process took two and a half years and, as McDonnell noted, thousands upon thousands of hours.

Yet that is not enough for environmental groups that have mounted yet another attempt to delay the work. The Clean Air Council, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the Mountain Watershed Association are pursuing a reconsideration of the permitting by the state Environmental Hearing Board, on grounds that the approved permits were incomplete and that the construction of the pipeline would cause “massive and irreparable harm to the state’s environment and residents.”

We wonder what alternative these groups would suggest for moving natural gas liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale drilling areas to the Marcus Hook complex. Actually, we don’t wonder. We know the answer. These groups don’t care about the gas industry. In fact, if they had their way, there would be no gas industry in our region, and to heck with the billions of dollars in economic harm that would result.

We are not anti-environment. We want the citizens of this area to have clean air to breathe and water to drink. But we also recognize that the natural gas industry, when operated under the proper environmental restraints and regulations, is a major benefit to our region. Sure, in a perfect world, we would get all our energy from renewable sources, but this world is imperfect. In the meantime, natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays is an indispensable bridge to a cleaner energy future, and in our area, it is central to our economic present.

When it comes to answering environmental concerns about this pipeline, it seems to us that the DEP has done its due diligence and even gone beyond the call of duty to protect the environment and the people of Pennsylvania. Our hope is that the Environmental Hearing Board recognizes this latest attempt by the environmental groups to throw a monkey wrench into the project as the equivalent of a nuisance lawsuit, and will summarily dismiss the appeal.

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