Local activists are fighting to stop the construction of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline that will transport natural gas liquids from Eastern Ohio to an export terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. The 350-mile pipeline is scheduled to be completed in 2018 and may offer serious risks to the safety of hundreds of people.
Caroline Hughes, physical therapist and one of the coalition leaders for Goshen United for Public Safety said the community needs to know about the hazards involved in the transportation of highly volatile natural gas liquids.
“They are being pushed down the pipeline from Ohio to Marcus Hook at 1,500 PSI,” said Hughes. “That’s bomb-like pressure.”
The ME2 has made headlines recently because of the contamination of water supplies that forced Sunoco to temporarily suspend horizontal directional drilling. According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s website, Sunoco agreed to revise some of the plans and procedures associated with the project, including notification of landowners about water supplies and reevaluation reports.
“I understand people’s concerns,” said West Chester University science librarian, Walt Cressler. “I have concerns as well about the high volatility of the gases coming through the pipeline and the disruption that the infrastructure is causing to the communities.”
Sunoco Logistics is part of Energy Transfer Partners, who is also responsible for the controversial Dakota Access pipeline. ME2 is an expansion of the Mariner East system. It will run alongside the already existing Mariner East 1 pipeline to transport higher volumes of natural gas liquids.
“I’m not an alarmist,” said Hughes. “I’ve never been an environmental activist. I’m here because my kids and my patients cannot possibly escape.”
Natural gas liquids such as ethane, butane and propane are highly flammable products that when exposed to air turn into a colorless gas with very low odor level. According to Sunoco Logistics’ website, the gas can be easily dispersed in air and will burn readily, forming a “flammable/explosive vapor-air mixture.”
According to West Chester University chemistry professor Michael Moran, “A spark can ignite a gas mixture with air.” Moran said that at the right concentration, the gas can be ignited by a spark from a light switch or a car engine.
Moran explains that people carry liquefied butane in lighters and have propane tanks in their backyard barbecues. But if these gases are transported in large amounts, they can be dangerous. “If that pipeline was going through my backyard, I would be very concerned.”
One of the main problems with the pipeline, according to activists, is that it will run through densely populated areas in Chester County and Delaware County, including schools, daycares and senior living centers.
“Our most vulnerable are at risk,” said Hughes. She explains that in case of a leak, children and elderly will have difficulties escaping in time.
The project expands approximately 23.6 miles within Chester County and 11.4 miles within Delaware County. Hughes’ coalition represents the residents of East Goshen, West Goshen and West Chester. Other coalitions representing the townships alongside the entire ME2 project were formed with the goal of stopping the pipeline.
“You also have reason to be concerned when you’re on the highway and you’re passing a truck carrying this stuff,” said Moran. The risks in piping natural gas liquids in ME1 and ME2 raise questions about the dangers involved in other means of transportation. “It’s worth acknowledging that the pipeline is safer than transporting the fluids by rail,” said Cressler.
In January 2015, a natural gas liquid pipeline exploded in Follansbee, West Virginia. Because it was located in a rural area, nobody was injured. According to Hughes, Follansbee is proof that natural gas liquids are extremely dangerous.
“Mariner 1 has been running for two years and it had three leaks in one year alone,” said Hughes.
One of the incidents occurred in Morgantown, PA in April, when 20 barrels of ethane and propane leaked from ME1. “If the leak ignites, the blast zone is a 1,100-foot radius from the leak, and the evacuation zone is three to five miles from it,” said Hughes.
Goshen United for Public Safety believes that even if you do not live within the blast zone, you should still be concerned.
“People just don’t live in their homes,” said Hughes. “They live in their community.”
Goshen United for Public Safety and the other coalitions have reached out to Governor Tom Wolf to try to stop the pipeline and have organized rallies and other events to bring awareness about the dangers of the pipeline to the community. The governor could not be reached for comment.
More information about Goshen United for Public Safety’s next events can be found on their Facebook page.
Kelly Witman is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in linguistics and journalism. She can be reached at KW860698@wcupa.edu.