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Sunoco Turns to Refined Products Line for NGLs as Mariner East 2 Delays Persist

After nearly two years of delays and with no clear end in sight to the latest regulatory setback for Sunoco Pipeline LP’s beleaguered Mariner East (ME) 2 project, the company is working on an alternative to meet its customer obligations and get more Appalachian natural gas liquids (NGL) to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex.

Sunoco plans to use an existing 12-inch pipeline that’s currently moving refined products through Chester and Delaware counties, PA, to transport liquids to the terminal near Philadelphia. The move would provide the company and its customers a quick fix to an order issued by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes in May that stopped work on ME 2 and 2X in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township.

The order was issued in response to a complaint from a state senator, which was filed over safety concerns after sinkholes were discovered in the area earlier this year. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) upheld the order and is set to review reams of information that Sunoco was ordered to submit so commissioners can better make a decision about how to proceed, putting a project that’s nearly complete in limbo.

“A minimum amount of work will be required” to convert the line from refined products to NGLs, said spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger, of Sunoco’s parent Energy Transfer Partners LP. “Plans to finish construction on ME 2 through Chester and Delaware counties remain in place so that the line can be safely returned to refined products service and meet ongoing customer demand.”

ME 2 and 2X would run parallel for about 350 miles to move ethane, butane and propane from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Marcus Hook. ME 2, with a designed capacity of 345,000 b/d, was initially expected to be online at the end of 2016, but construction setbacks, lawsuits and regulatory snags have hindered progress. Combined with 2X and ME 1, which has also been offline for nearly three months this year, all three pipelines would move 745,000 b/d and provide a key outlet for constrained Appalachian liquids. 

Service interruptions on ME 1 and the ME 2 delays have forced producers to find workarounds. The issues have also periodically stopped exports at Marcus Hook, which has limited storage available.

Dillinger said the company plans to connect the refined products line to ME 2 in Wallace and Middletown townships, which are both fairly close to West Whiteland. The interconnections with the older refined products line would allow Sunoco to utilize portions of ME 2 that are already complete in order to move NGLs from the western part of the state to Marcus Hook.

“It allows us to meet our customer obligations,” Dillinger said, adding that the company has notified federal and state regulators of its plans.

PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said the commission’s Pipeline Safety Division has received a construction notice from Sunoco. But he said that while the notice allows PUC engineers to coordinate inspections and monitoring, the commission is not required to approve it.

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