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Pennsylvanians speak out about losing their land to a Sunoco pipeline

Doris and Ralph Blume take in the damage on their property in Newville, Pennsylvania, May 22, 2017, after Sunoco cut down trees for its Mariner East 2 pipeline project. The company used eminent domain to clear the trees.
Doris and Ralph Blume take in the damage on their property in Newville, Pennsylvania, May 22, 2017, after Sunoco cut down trees for its Mariner East 2 pipeline project. The company used eminent domain to clear the trees. McClatchy

Any day now, a pipeline company will arrive on Ralph Blume’s land in southern Pennsylvania to remove a hay shed. The shed sits on the route of the new Mariner East 2 pipeline, which Sunoco is building to transport natural gas liquids to the East Coast and abroad.

Blume, 76, doesn’t plan to make it easy for Sunoco contractors. “I’ll sit in the damn building, and they can go to hell,” he said, one week after he watched Sunoco contractors cuts down trees on his farm.

To make way for the pipeline, Sunoco has offered landowners payments ranging from several thousand dollars to six figures. Many have accepted the monetary offer and are preparing for a hazardous liquids pipeline to be dug through their farms and yards. Others are refusing, and learning that they have little say in the matter.

Eminent domain is often used by governments to gain right-of-way for projects such as highways or government buildings. But state and federal regulators who authorize pipeline projects also typically grant the private companies that are building them the right to use eminent domain to secure needed right-of-way.

In Pennsylvania, seven major pipeline projects are under construction or regulatory review. One of the most controversial is the Mariner East 2, which would add two pipelines along the route of the Mariner East 1 pipeline in the southern part of the state.

Built in the 1930s, this pipeline formerly shipped petroleum east to west from Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery, near Pennsylvania’s border with Delaware.

Sunoco briefly started idling the refinery in 2011. The next year, Energy Transfer Partners – the same company that’s building the Dakota Access pipeline – purchased Sunoco and soon came up with a novel way to repurpose the old pipeline.

Energy Transfer recognized that fracking in the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania and West Virginia was producing a glut of what’s known as “natural gas liquids” – products such as propane, ethane and butane. It also knew there was a demand for these liquids in Europe, particularly among plastics manufacturers and gasoline refiners.

So the company re-engineered its pipeline to run west to east, and started transferring natural gas liquids to Marcus Hook, where they were being loaded into ships heading to Europe.

It is unclear how much of the product is being distributed abroad versus locally. “That is proprietary shipper information,” spokesman Jeffrey Shields wrote in an email response.

That means rural and suburban landowners from Pennsylvania to the Dakotas are finding it increasingly difficult to combat an ever-growing network of pipelines that companies are racing to build to accommodate the prodigious amounts of oil and natural gas that fracking is producing.

“You can’t refuse them,” said Blume, “because they have that court order.”

We visited residents across the state who are standing up to Sunoco. Their stories are compiled into the interactive video above.

Brittany Peterson: (202) 383-6058 @brittanykamalei

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