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Lengthy Fight Shaping Up Over Sunoco's Mariner East Pipeline

A township in southeast Pennsylvania has vowed to keep fighting Sunoco Logistics Partners LP's Mariner East pipeline even if the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) grants it the status of a public utility corporation, which would exempt it from local zoning ordinances.

West Goshen Township officials would appeal any such decision in state Commonwealth Court and then file a motion seeking a stay of execution to delay the pipeline while an appeal plays out in court, saying in a statement that "the township is seeking technical experts to document our concerns and the township is prepared to take this matter to the appellate courts as necessary."

The township has been particularly vocal in its opposition to the pipeline, especially after Sunoco filed a request with the PUC for public utility status earlier this year to bypass local zoning ordinances that were proving to be a challenge for its plans (see Shale DailyApril 28). West Goshen along with environmental organizations and other townships filed a petition to intervene in that request.

News of West Goshen's plans to fight came just days after the PUC rejected a ruling by two administrative law judges (ALJ) that recommended the commission not grant Sunoco public utility status. In a 4-1 vote, the PUC approved a motion to reverse the ALJ's recommendation issued over the summer (see Shale DailyAug 1), remanding the matter to the ALJ office for further proceedings and ordering more public hearings.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher told NGI's Shale Daily that there are no timelines for those hearings and the commission is not required by law to make a ruling on Sunoco's request by any specific date. "With the process ahead," she said, "it will be next year before the commission would act."

Most of Mariner East has already been built. Sunoco wants to expand the line, in two phases, into Ohio and southwest Pennsylvania to gather natural gas liquids (NGL) and transport them to its Marcus Hook facility in Delaware County, south of Philadelphia (see Shale DailySept. 9, 2013).

For now, though, it will need local cooperation in the southeast part of the state -- where many residents oppose the oil and gas industry -- for rights-of-way and 35 valve and pumping stations. The first phase of Mariner East was expected to move propane and be operational by the second half of this year, with the second phase was expected to be moving NGLs by late 2016.

The Chester County Community group, which was formed to fight the pipeline, has also said it will do everything it can to prevent Sunoco from building equipment related to Mariner East until it has no legal options left.

"Our community believes that this is a bad idea for many reasons including environmental, danger to local homes, a decrease in desirability of living in this area, home values and a desire to disallow our basic rights given to us by the Pennsylvania constitution to be able to determine what is right for our community," the group says on its website.

After the commission rejected the ALJ's recommendation, Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said the decision validated Mariner East's status as a public utility, which the company has repeatedly said it believes will eventually be granted. 

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