An administrative law judge (ALJ) in Pennsylvania has denied an emergency request to stop operations on the Mariner East (ME) pipeline system, finding that the petitioners provided little evidence and failed to demonstrate it was necessary.
“Without evidence regarding pipeline integrity, the risk or probability of fatalities regarding ME 1 or ME 2, or evidence of past releases along the Mariner East project, petitioners have failed to show a clear and present danger to human life or property,” wrote ALJ Elizabeth Barnes of the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) in a decision issued on Tuesday.
Residents from Delaware and Chester counties in the southeastern part of the state, where construction spills, water issues and sinkholes have raised public alarm and slowed down Sunoco Pipeline LP’s ME 2 and 2X projects, filed the emergency petition and formal complaint last month. They argued that the company's public awareness and emergency management programs are deficient in efforts to stop natural gas liquids transport on ME 1, construction on the other projects and the partial start-up of ME 2 using an older refined products pipeline.
Petitioners also argued that highly volatile liquids on the systems are so dangerous that operations should be stopped.
Barnes said the “claims and arguments as to the hypothetical consequences of a release from the pipelines have little foundation.” Instead, she said Sunoco and ME 1 anchor shipper Range Resources Corp., which intervened in the case, both offered “credible evidence” that they would be harmed financially by an emergency order to stop operations.
A formal complaint is still pending before the PUC.
Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer LP, started commissioning part of the ME 2 system this month, when line fill got underway. The pipeline was initially slated to come online about two years ago.
Facing consistent delays, the company repurposed a 12-inch diameter pipeline that carried refined products to tap into sections of the 20-inch diameter ME 2 near West Whiteland Township in Chester County that have been completed and are unaffected by regulatory issues. ME 2 is expected to enter partial service by the end of the year, while ME 2X is expected to come online in 3Q2019.
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 the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia. ME 1 currently moves 70,000 b/d along a similar path from one side of the state to the other.
Earlier this year, Barnes temporarily halted ME 1 operations and ME 2 and 2X construction after a state senator filed an emergency petition and complaint questioning the safety of the entire system after sinkholes formed near the project in a heavily populated area in Chester County.