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Environment & Energy

Sunoco Drops Request for Eminent Domain Authority for Southwest PA Pipeline

Flickr user Kara Newhouse

Sunoco’s pipeline division has withdrawn its request that its Mariner East I pipeline be designated as a public utility, a development environmental groups are hailing as a victory.

The pipeline runs just south of Pittsburgh from the MarkWest Energy Partners processing and fractionation complex in Houston Pa. to an existing Sunoco pipeline in Delmont Pa..

Environmental groups say Sunoco was seeking to have the pipeline designated as a public utility by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in order to obtain eminent domain authority.

Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, said the administrative development is positive, but his group was looking forward to making its argument in front of the PUC to set precedent for further pipeline projects.

Minott said the state has a very strict definition about what qualifies as a public utility, and that a pipeline that would move liquid natural gas for export falls outside that definition.

“In this case, it was particularly inappropriate, because most of the fuel that would go through the pipeline was not for domestic consumption but for overseas markets,” Minott said.

Lynda Farrell, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition said Sunoco had already been approaching landowners along the pipeline route and telling them they had eminent domain, even though they did not.

“One of our major concerns in this entire project is the disenfranchisement of the community in their ability to negotiate without fear, to talk to the operator without fear of their land being taken,” Farrell said.

Farrell said she suspects Sunoco dropped the request with the PUC because it's already received enough buy-in from local governments and landowners to construct the pipeline.

Sunoco Logistics did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story. According to its website, the pipeline is expected to be fully operational by May 2015, and will transport approximately 70,000 barrels of liquid natural gas each day to the existing pipeline in Delmont. That pipeline runs to Marcus Hook, New Jersey, where Sunoco “will construct new facilities to process, store, chill, and distribute propane and ethane to local, regional and international markets.”