Sunoco Pipeline LP has asked the Huntingdon County Common Pleas Court for permission to remove landowners and their supporters from a property in southern Pennsylvania where an encampment has cropped up to prevent construction of the Mariner East (ME) 2 natural gas pipeline.
The Gerhart family, which owns nearly 30 acres in Huntingdon County along the proposed path of ME 2, has become a symbol of opposition to the project. Sunoco obtained an easement in court last year for the pipeline using eminent domain. While the Gerharts lost that challenge and another to stop tree clearing on a three-acre section of their land, the eminent domain appeal is awaiting a ruling by the state Supreme Court.
Since March, opponents of the project have been posted at "Camp White Pine" on the property, erecting an "aerial blockade" by connecting three white pines along the easement with zip lines. The trees are linked to others in the surrounding forest with banners protesting the pipeline. A website, Resist Sunoco, has also been launched.
The project and efforts to stop it are now being closely linked to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) after the project's sponsor Energy Transfer Partners LP merged with Sunoco Logistics Partners LP earlier this year. County sheriff's officers in south-central Oklahoma cleared a much larger encampment of protesters from private land near DAPL last year.
If granted, Sunoco's motion for an injunction would give the Gerharts and protestors two days to clear the encampment before law enforcement would be allowed to evict and make arrests if necessary. It would also prevent opponents from interfering with tree clearing and construction of the pipeline. In its filing, Sunoco suggested the property has been "hijacked by anarchists" and "radical eco-terrorists" that have an anti-fossil fuel bent. A decision on the filing could come as early as Thursday.
Sunoco began constructing ME 2 in February after receiving key water-crossing and sedimentation permits. The 350-mile project is considered crucial to move ethane, butane and propane from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia for distribution to domestic and international markets.
ME 1 entered full service last year to deliver ethane and propane from western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook. Sunoco also plans to proceed with a third pipeline that would run parallel to ME 2 and be installed shortly after that project is completed. The first phase of ME 2 is expected to be complete by the end of September and the second phase is slated for completion in 2018. Combined capacity of the three ME pipelines is up to 800,000 b/d.
Sunoco has battled landowners in courts throughout Pennsylvania. Opponents have argued that the company shouldn't be allowed to condemn land under eminent domain because the pipeline has been designed as an interstate system to primarily serve overseas markets and not as an intrastate system that would qualify. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, however, has upheld the pipeline's certificates of public convenience from the state Public Utility Commission. The state Supreme Court has also declined to hear a separate challenge to Sunoco's power of eminent domain.