Mariner East

A Mariner East pipeline work site is shown on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, near Ebensburg.

A company hired to study the economic impact of the Mariner East II pipeline project has more than doubled it’s projection, saying the undertaking could support thousands of jobs over the next six years alone and make a $9.1 billion impact.

The Sunoco-paid report, by Econsult Solutions, was released just days after state officials brought the 350 mile-pipeline project to a halt, ordering construction to stop until a list of issues are addressed.

This past week it had supporters pointing to the estimates as reason for the state and Sunoco to quickly find a way to get construction underway.

Critics of the project called the report “a diversion.”

‘Major impact’

Until now, work was underway for most of the past year on the Mariner East II line, which is being built to carry Marcellus Shale liquid gases such as butane and propane across Pennsylvania – and through the middle of Indiana, Cambria and Blair Counties.

Philadelphia-based Econsult originally projected three years ago that the line would have a $4.2 billion economic impact – a substantial portion through the spinoff that the more than five-year construction project would bring statewide.

Their updated projection accounts for a second, parallel pipeline and a gas-liquids processing facility in Marcus Hook, suburban Philadelphia.

It’s one of several facilities being added to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex, which will give Sunoco the ability to process and/or ship the products from that point across the nation or the globe, company officials have said.

Econsult maintains that the construction projects tied to the line will have either directly or indirectly supported 57,070 jobs once it wraps up in late 2019.

Once the upgrades at Marcus Hook are complete, it would also add 360 to more than 500 permanent jobs, the consulting firm added.

“We are not just building a modern energy infrastructure with the Mariner East projects. We are giving a huge, sustained boost to our entire commonwealth economy,” said Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, a Mariner East project backer.

The alliance has urged DEP officials and Sunoco to seek a way to quickly resolve the matter.

The ability to swiftly move Western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale fuels to the East coast – and beyond – for export, should have a $140 million or more annual economic impact across the state, the 24-page report adds.

That, however, assumes construction resumes on the increasingly divisive project.

‘Feeble’ attempt to change the subject

Legal challenges from landowners and environmental groups have been piling up against the project over the past few years – and issues with the pipeline construction phase have yielded violations across the state.

The Department of Environmental Protection briefly halted drilling on the project in the summer, citing a high number of drilling fluid spills, before an agreement was reached between Sunoco and three environmental groups.

It gave the state additional oversight on the process, both before and during drilling, while also compelling Sunoco to submit specific plans detailing where – and how – drilling in high-risk areas would occur.

But spills have continued since.

In a 24-page order that idled the project once again, state officials called Sunoco’s latest violations “egregious and willful.”

They wrote that the company conducted drilling activities in areas where it did not obtain authorization to do so.

“Until Sunoco can demonstrate that the permit conditions can and will be followed, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has no alternative but to suspend the permits,” Pennsylvania DEP Sec. Patrick McDonnell said earlier this month.

DEP officials also cited negative impacts to private landowners’ wells near a pipeline construction site in Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County, another series of “inadvertent returns” – or drilling fluid spills.

To Sam Rubin, a Pennsylvania organizer with the environmental group Food & Water Watch, the report is “a feeble attempt” to shift the focus away from those issues.

“A company-sponsored study of economic impacts should not distract us from the life and death safety risks the Mariner East pipeline poses to our communities,” he said in a statement to The Tribune-Democrat.

He noted that there are 40 school districts within the blast zone of “this dangerous pipeline.”

“Our children’s safety is worth much more to us than some dubious research commissioned for the benefit of a corporation that was just cited for its ‘unlawful conduct,’ ” he said.

Company hopes to get project back on track

Sunoco Pipeline, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners L.P., has a series of 10- and 30-day deadlines to file a list of reports and corrective action plans to the state for DEP review. The company also has until early February to appeal the state’s order to the Environmental Hearing Board.

But a Sunoco company spokesman released a statement earlier this month saying Sunoco plans to work “expeditiously” to meet it’s deadlines and get the project back on track.

“(The DEP’s) order requires us to submit various reports related to current and future construction activities. We intend to expeditiously submit these reports and we are confident that we will be reauthorized to commence work on this project promptly,” the statement said. “We also reiterate our commitment to the highest levels of construction expertise and our dedication to preserving and protecting the environment in which we conduct our work.

As of Friday, it did not appear any hearings had been scheduled between the sides.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

Trending Video

Recommended for you