What is eminent domain?
Eminent domain is the right of government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use.
Is Sunoco a Public Utility?
The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) determined in a 2014 affirmed ruling that the Sunoco Pipeline and its Mariner East project is a public utility. The commission determined that the project, which carries gas liquids such as propane, methane and ethane from the Marcellus Shale region to a Sunoco terminal in Marcus Hook, PA provides ‘significant public benefits.’ The PUC ruling was contested, but the commission rejected a recommendation by two hearing examiners that Sunoco is not a public utility because its pipeline service is private, available to only a select few shippers. Three Commonwealth Court judges, in various dissenting opinions, also have questioned whether Sunoco has the legal authority to condemn private property for its project.
Are there any serious remaining legal challenges?
Yes there are. The Clean Air Council is suing Sunoco on the grounds that Mariner East violates the federal and state constitutions, including Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment. Judge Linda Carpenter said the constitutional claims before her have not yet been addressed in other litigation. This case is expect to go to trial at the end of 2017, when Sunoco hopes the Mariner East 2 pipeline will be completed. Alex Bomstein, a Clean Air Council attorney, said the courts could order Sunoco to abandon its project. “We’re not seeking damages, but if there is a declaration that Sunoco doesn’t have the right to take land, there’s a question retroactively about the validity of the takings that have happened,” Bomstein said.
What materials are proposed to be moving through Mariner East 2?
Propane, ethane, and butane will be carried in the pipeline and they will primarily be used as raw materials for the commercial production of plastic. Most of the gas liquids are under contract to be shipped to petrochemical plants in Scotland and Norway. The question is, how as a Public Utility does that benefit the public, in particular those impacted by the pipeline.
What about the existing pipeline? What is going through those pipes? How did Mariner East 1 evolve into Mariner East 2?
The disputed purpose of the Sunoco project has been much litigated since the company announced plans in 2010 to reverse the flow of the 80 year old pipeline that carried refined products such as gasoline from Philadelphia refiners to Western Pennsylvania. The new plan involved allowing shale producers to send liquids from west to east, where the materials would be shipped out by sea. Hence the name: Mariner. In 2014 Sunoco began acquiring easements to accommodate an expansion of the project by constructing two additional pipelines, largely tracing the route of the original Mariner East 1 pipeline. Sunoco argued that the project had inherited the public-utility status under which its east-to-west pipeline operated for decades, and that it had the authority to take the existing easements.
Has the PUC weighed in on Sunoco’s plans to build pump and valve stations on the pipeline route?
In 2014 the PUC dismissed legal challenges of Sunoco’s plans to build pump and valve stations on the pipeline route. The PUC emphasized that a "public utility" is not required to have a retail component to its business.
Have there been pushbacks by environmental groups and land owners?
Absolutely. The argument is that Mariner East, unlike its predecessor, was an interstate pipeline that fell strictly under federal jurisdiction – the pipe crosses the state line at its terminals in Claymont, Delaware. It has been argued that Sunoco needed certification not from the PUC but from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, without which it would be unable to exercise eminent domain to assemble the necessary easements. As Sunoco’s next move, it announced plans to build “off-ramps” in Pennsylvania to allow propane distributors to withdraw fuel for local sale. Now it is argued, Mariner was both a multistate pipeline and an intrastate project, and qualified as a state public utility to transport “petroleum products,” a category that includes gas liquids. The PUC sided with Sunoco, saying the proposed service would ensure “that Pennsylvania’s citizens enjoy access to propane heating fuel.” Sunoco has declined to disclose how much propane it has distributed to local markets since Mariner East 1 went into service more than two years ago.
What are the documented incidents on Mariner East 2 with Sunoco?
So far, there have a total of 90 incidents that have been reported. The most recent incidents include a material leak into well water which caused the temporary evacuation of multiple homeowners in Exton, PA. Some of these homes had to connect to a public source of water. There have been document leaks in East Goshen and Middletown, PA over the last several months as well.
Any updates on the valve control system in West Goshen Township?
On Monday, July 24 an administrative law judge temporarily blocked construction of a valve-control station for the Mariner East 2 pipeline project in West Goshen Township until the PUV decides whether Sunoco’s work on the contested facility on Boot Road near Greenhill Road violated a 2015 agreement.