There is a recent piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled “A new domestic market opens for Marcellus ethane, via Marcus Hook”. It is written by Andrew Maykuth, who has done a good job covering the pipeline issue. But in this case, Sunoco’s PR machine got the better of him.

Ethane is by far the largest component of the “natural gas liquids” shipped through the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2 pipeline). The article claims that ethane will be trucked from the Marcus Hook terminal for “research and development in the manufacture of ethane-fueled power generation equipment and facilities, for refrigeration for manufacturers and storage terminals, for enhanced oil recovery at well sites, and in the manufacture of electronics,” and that this will help Sunoco justify its claim that “its Mariner East pipeline is not just about exports”.

The article has a photo of a refrigerated tank truck, presumably like the ones that will be picking up ethane from Marcus Hook. You can read the article here.

There are several problems with this article.

To begin with, a truck full of ethane, like the one pictured in the article, is a rolling bomb. If it were ruptured in an accident, the resulting explosion would destroy everything for hundreds of feet in every direction. Is it really a good thing that Sunoco is putting these on our streets?

As for the claim about opening up domestic markets, that’s beyond ridiculous–it’s just plain silly. None of the applications mentioned uses enough ethane to notice. The tank truck shown probably holds around 6,000 gallons. That’s just three minutes of flow for the current 70,000 barrel/day Mariner East 1, which operates 24/7. And it would be around two seconds of flow for the Dragonpipe, if it is completed. Even if there was a big enough domestic ethane market to ship out one full truck a day (which I doubt), the remaining 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 58 seconds of the Dragonpipe’s capacity each day would be strictly for export.

This story isn’t really about domestic ethane markets. It’s about Sunoco trying to provide our politicians with some kind of plausible justification for why they are permitting this dangerous pipeline project. (And the “justification” itself creates a new, serious highway safety hazard.)

With the cold weather coming, we will probably get another story from Sunoco like this one, but focusing instead on propane. Sunoco will claim that the Dragonpipe is providing a public service because it is a potential source of propane in case there are shortages. Again, there is a tiny grain of truth to this, but that doesn’t change the fact that over 99.9% of pipeline capacity is for export. This project is not about service to the people of Pennsylvania or to the Pennsylvania economy. It is about Sunoco profits.