The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that a state senator does not have standing to challenge the Mariner East (ME) pipeline system, clearing the project to move forward with long-delayed construction in one county and bringing the pipelines a step closer to full service.
In an opinion issued this week, the court overturned last year’s emergency order by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) that halted a stretch of construction on ME 2 and 2X in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township. The order has partly prevented full service from starting on the pipelines.
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman filed for an emergency injunction to stop construction, arguing that public safety was at risk after sinkholes opened up along the route last year in the township. Dinniman, a Democrat who has been a vocal critic of the ME project, represents Chester County where the sinkholes opened.
Sunoco Pipeline LP argued that Dinniman lacked standing to file a complaint, but a PUC administrative law judge disagreed and in May 2018 halted operations on ME 1 and construction on the other two pipelines. While the ME 1 suspension was ultimately lifted, construction on ME 2 and 2X at certain locations in the township has remained on hold.
The PUC required Sunoco to file verifications and affidavits showing that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had issued the appropriate permits for continued construction. Sunoco has done that since the emergency order was issued for most locations in West Whiteland, but injunctions remained at two locations pending the outcome of the appeal.
The court ordered PUC to dissolve the emergency order, which could clear Energy Transfer LP subsidiary Sunoco to finish construction in West Whiteland. The PUC’s legal team is reviewing the court’s order to determine how to proceed, a spokesperson said. However, Energy Transfer spokesperson Lisa Coleman said the court’s decision should allow it to restart work.
“We hope PUC acts swiftly to take care of this matter,” she said. “We have always believed that Sen. Dinniman did not have the legal standing to bring his complaint to the PUC.”
The court found that Dinniman lacked both legislative and personal standing because he failed to demonstrate how the project has negatively impacted him. His public office, the court said, does not include the duty of overseeing construction of a natural gas liquids (NGL) pipeline or filing lawsuits on behalf of residents.
The ME project has faced constant regulatory and legal challenges that have led to delays and operational problems. Pennsylvania has also cited Sunoco for more than 80 violations and fined the company more than $13 million.
The system moves NGLs from processing facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia. Once all three pipelines enter full service, the system would have a total capacity of 595,000 b/d.
Because of regulatory issues along the route, ME 2 entered partial service late last year using a short stretch of 12-inch diameter pipeline to bypass areas where construction was suspended. Producers have said the pipeline is currently moving about 165,000 b/d, versus its designed capacity of 275,000 b/d.
Coleman said this week’s ruling does not change the timeline for the rest of the project. ME 2X is expected to enter service by the end of the year, while the company is aiming for full service to start on ME 2 in the same timeframe. Coleman said the company is still waiting for the DEP to sign off on work at other points before all construction can resume.
While ME 1 is operating, the PUC had previously halted operations over similar subsistence issues before Dinniman’s complaint was filed. The periodic outages have forced producers to find costly workarounds.
Range Resources Corp., an anchor shipper on the system, said late Tuesday ME 1 was shutting down this month to make upgrades at the Marcus Hook export terminal, and it said it would reject ethane into the gas stream and move propane on ME 2 for now. While ME 1 is expected to return to service next month, Range has lowered its third quarter production guidance to 2.22-2.23 Bcfe from a previous estimate of 2.25-2.26 Bcfe.