Nearly two years after the 350-mile Mariner East (ME) 2 pipeline was first expected to enter service, natural gas liquids are still not moving through as an Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) subsidiary continues to work through regulatory delays.
The company had most recently been targeting a startup by the end of September, but that window has since closed. The pipeline “is not in service at this time due to regulatory issues we continue to work through,” said ETP spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger. “These issues have slowed our construction in a few areas along the route. We will put the line in service once it is mechanically complete.”
Dillinger said mainline construction is 99% complete and 98% of the horizontal directional drills are complete or in progress.
ME 2 was initially slated to come online at the end of 2016. Early issues with securing the necessary state permits from Pennsylvania forced the company to push that timeline back in a trend that’s continued. ME 2 and companion project ME 2X have faced repeated delays and fines because of regulatory issues and legal challenges.
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said there are a host of matters before commissioners involving the Mariner East project. Construction is still suspended at two sites in Chester County after it was ordered stopped by the PUC in May. The injunctions won’t be lifted until affidavits are filed certifying the receipt of new permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). A wide ranging complaint about the project filed by a state senator is also before the commission.
The PUC is investigating a leak of tens of thousands of gallons of gasoline from a 12-inch diameter refined products pipeline in Delaware County that Sunoco wants to repurpose for transporting NGLs to fulfill its customer obligations while the ME 2 delays persist. Finally, a joint federal-state investigation involving both the PUC and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is underway to probe improper weld inspections conducted for the project.
Hagen-Frederiksen said the list doesn’t include other matters that could be pending before the DEP.
The PUC in August partially lifted the construction suspension on locations in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township, but the injunctions at two of those sites remain. Construction was halted in May by an administrative law judge. The move came in response to a complaint from state Sen. Andrew Dinniman seeking the emergency order and questioning the safety of the entire system.
Dinniman’s complaint was filed partly in response to another PUC order in March that shut down ME 1 after three sinkholes formed near it in West Whiteland. ME1, a former oil pipeline, was converted and began full service in 2016 to move 70,000 b/d of ethane and propane from Western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia.
The regulatory issues in West Whiteland put ME 1 out of service for nearly three months this year, forcing producers in the basin to find a workaround during those service interruptions. ME 1 was allowed to return to service after it was determined that the sinkholes were not a threat to its integrity.
The ME 2 and 2X projects, which are under construction in the ME 1 right-of-way, would run parallel for about 350 miles to move NGLs from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Marcus Hook. All three pipelines would move 745,000 b/d to provide a key outlet for constrained Appalachian liquids.