Sunoco Logistics Partners LP has requested an exemption from the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code that, if granted by the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC), would give it the status of a public utility corporation.

Such a classification would exempt its Mariner East pipeline from local zoning ordinances that are proving to be a problem, particularly in the southeast part of the state. The company is facing staunch opposition from local residents there concerned about the environment and public health and safety.

Although most of Pennsylvania is home to varying levels of Marcellus Shale development, all but one corner in the southeast is relatively free of it. The oil and gas industry faces opposition from many residents there.

Sunoco has had issues with local ordinances and right-of-way problems in areas such as York and Chester counties as it’s moved ahead with plans for Mariner East, which is considered crucial to relieving the liquids bottleneck in the Appalachian Basin. Mariner East calls for the development of a pipeline that would connect natural gas liquids production in Ohio and southwest Pennsylvania to a terminal in Marcus Hook, PA, on the Delaware River south of Philadelphia (see Shale Daily, Sept. 9, 2013; Dec. 5, 2013)

Sunoco’s request for an exemption has rankled environmental groups, townships and other organizations that want to be a party in the company’s case before the PUC.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Pipeline Safety Coalition, the Mountain Watershed Association and the Clean Air Council, along with East Goshen and West Goshen townships in Chester County, PA, have filed a petition to intervene in the case. They want to ensure that “Sunoco abides by the applicable zoning regulations in each of the townships in which it wishes to construct its industrial facilities,” Riverkeeper said.

Among Sunoco’s plans for Mariner East are the construction of 17 valve stations in 15 different municipalities and the construction of 18 pumping stations in 18 different municipalities.

The groups contend that Sunoco does not meet the legal standard for classification as a public utility corporation and is therefore not exempt from the planning code and local ordinances. Riverkeeper also cited a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that struck down a crucial part of Act 13, the state’s omnibus oil and gas legislation, that returned the right of local municipalities to enforce or change their zoning ordinances (see Shale Daily, Dec. 20, 2013).

Dozens of documents have thus far been filed supporting and opposing Sunoco’s request. It is unclear when the PUC might decide on the matter.