A decommissioned underground pipeline that once carried gasoline across the state and through Lancaster County could see new life from the Marcellus shale gas boom.
Representatives of Sunoco Inc., of Philadelphia, have recently been in West Cocalico and Clay townships doing site surveys and scouting locations for a pumping station needed as part of a statewide retrofit of the pipeline so that it can transport natural gas to a facility in Delaware.
"Mariner East 1 is a project to transport natural gas liquids (NGLs), also called liquefied petroleum gases (LPGs) from the Marcellus and Utica shales in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex on the Pennsylvania/Delaware border," Sunoco representative Jeff Shields wrote in an email Nov. 20.
The Mariner East 1 project would stretch from a Sunoco facility just outside Houston, Pa., in Chartiers Township, Washington County, to its transportation hub in Marcus Hook, Delaware County, or a distance of about 300 miles.
Shields explained that like gasoline, which is transported through the pipeline as a liquid, natural gas liquids, which are gaseous in form, are also transported through pipelines in liquid form.
NGLs such as propane, ethane and butane are classified as "wet gas" because they are products of the mining process known a hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The untainted, natural-gas methane is classified as a "dry gas."
Sunoco plans to begin transporting propane through the new Mariner East 1 pipeline by the second second half of 2014, and both ethane and propane by mid-2015.
"In terms of propane and ethane, they can be shipped together to Marcus Hook, where processing will separate them," Schields wrote in the email.
The current pipeline only consists of a single pipe.
West Cocalico and Clay townships are the only Lancaster County municipalities affected by the pipeline project.
The current pipeline that runs through Lancaster County was deactivated for gasoline and petroleum transportation in October.
"(The pipeline) was purged with nitrogen to clear any product from the line, and is now being hydrotested - filled with water under pressure - to check for areas in need of upgrade," Shields wrote in the email.
West Cocalico Township manager Carolyn Friesema briefly updated supervisors on the status of the project at their Nov. 18 meeting.
Friesema said Sunoco recently ran a device called a pig through the pipeline for maintenance reasons.
Shields explained that "the work being done on existing Mariner East 1 pipeline in places like West Cocalico Township involves integrity testing and valve replacement - we are replacing any existing valves and replacing pipe in places our testing has determined an upgrade is needed."
Friesema said that Sunoco has also been eyeing sites in the township suitable for a pump station needed for the transport of the gas.
She said that due to the accessibility and land requirements along the current pipeline route, Sunoco has been looking at multiple sites in the township for the pumping station.
She did not identify those locations.
According to Shields, Sunoco is "still evaluating sites for the pump station."
Sunoco's existing pipeline is underground, and any additions to it would most likely be within the current right of way and also underground, except where the pipe would come out of the ground at the pump station.
"The project is mostly existing pipeline, except for 50 miles of new pipeline being installed between the beginning of the pipe outside of Houston, Pa., to our terminal outside of Delmont, Pa.," Shields wrote in the email.
The pipeline is ideal for the transportation of the liquid gas because of its termination in Marcus Hook, which has deepwater berths on the Delaware River for transporting the products to regional and foreign markets.
The Mariner East 1 pipeline should eventually reach a capacity of 70,000 barrels a day.
Once that happens, Sunoco could look at installing a second, entirely new pipeline to meet product demand.
But Shields said that project is only a proposal at this point.
"Mariner East 2 would parallel that right of way wherever possible, though we may need to acquire additional right of way and/or temporary work space to lay the pipe in certain areas," Shields wrote in the email.
When asked if Sunoco foresaw the need for eminent domain with the project in Lancaster County, Shields replied, "For any easements we require, we always offer fair market value for the land to be used, and address in good faith any additional concerns of landowners. The law enables us to seek condemnation of the property, but that is always a last resort when negotiations fail."
According to newspaper reports, Sunoco filed eminent domain proceedings for land in Westmoreland County in July.
Shields reiterated, however, that the Mariner East 1 project uses existing pipe within its own right of way in the two municipalities in Lancaster County.
Sunoco has not released exact figures for the Mariner East 1 project, and Shields wrote that a $600 million figure recently referenced in another newspaper's article about the project is incorrect.
"We have never broken out a cost for Mariner East 1. What we have put out as cost is "More than $600 million" combined for both Mariner East 1 and Mariner West, with the bulk of that being spent in Pennsylvania."
Shields wrote that Mariner West is a project that is scheduled to begin shipping ethane this month from western Pennsylvania through Ohio and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.