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CPBJ Extra Blog

Smooth sailing for pipelines?

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When it comes to pipelines, what's in the pipeline?

In the midstate, there are at least two projects.

And both run through, at least, Lebanon and Lancaster counties. One of the lines is expected to go through parts of Perry, Cumberland, York and Dauphin as well.

Both projects have names that seem to inspire sailing — Atlantic Sunrise and Mariner East 2. But smooth sailing is not something either project can expect.

Background: Thanks to a glut of natural-gas and related products being produced in Pennsylvania, these pipelines are being considered to get the gas to market.

In the case of Atlantic Sunrise, coordinated by Williams Partners, the goal is to move the gas from Northeast Pennsylvania to the Transco line (also owned by Williams). The Transco runs from the New York City area to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Transco had shipped gas from refineries in the Gulf up north. With a few new pump stations, in addition to the Atlantic Sunrise line, the gas would go south. The project would add 1.7 million dekatherms per day of pipeline capacity to the Transco system. That’s enough natural gas to meet the daily needs of more than 7 million American homes, according to Williams. The line would be about 178 miles long; a portion of it would go through Lebanon and Lancaster counties.

Mariner East 2, a Sunoco Logistics project, would mirror a line that already exists: Mariner East 1. It would run 300 miles from western Pennsylvania to a former oil refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County, that is being converted to handle natural-gas and related products. The goal, company officials say, is to send some of that overseas.

If you’ve been keeping tabs on things in Ukraine, you’ll know that the country owes Russia a lot for natural gas and that Russia supplies about 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas. Since Russia is making much of Europe angry, suddenly Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale gas products look attractive.

As I mentioned, both of these lines are proposed to run through the midstate. And, as you can expect, a number of property owners and others are lining up against the projects (see here and here). Some of it is for environmental reasons — a lot of people do not like fracking and the things that could and do go along with it. Some of it, though, seems to be “not in my backyard.”

There’s also another wrinkle in the Mariner East 2 project. Sunoco has asked for the state Public Utility Commission to review its application to have the line considered a public utility, making it exempt from local zoning rules. Sunoco has been ruled a public utility in relation to other lines it owns, the company has said. Residents, meanwhile, argue that since the gas is being sold overseas, the proposed line isn’t a public utility.

While it could mean jobs and money for Pennsylvania — not to mention jobs, money and global power for the United States — there are inherent risks with gas pipelines and their various components. Certainly, company officials will try to assuage community fears and promise to do everything necessary to prevent community harm, but accidents do happen.

From a business perspective, both projects seem like a good opportunity for Pennsylvania. But you don’t want to anger or alienate residents, some of whom could end up being your customers. And you certainly don’t want to foul the commonwealth’s air, water or soil, as we’ve seen industry do in the past.

What do you think? How do you strike the necessary balance to make money while keeping the community happy and safe?

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