flare stack photo

Perhaps you have seen the “flare stacks” burning at the refinery in South Philadelphia as you drive over the Platt Bridge. Or maybe you remember the flares at the various Marcus Hook refineries (until the last one closed a few years ago). Sunoco resumed occasional flaring there in October, in connection with maintenance on Mariner East 1.

Well, if Sunoco gets its way, Chester County will soon have a flare stack of its own. The question is: where?

The flare stack Sunoco wants to build is part of the “valve station” that it needs in the Chester County stretch of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2 pipeline). Sunoco was planning to build it on the plot of land in West Goshen that is currently the subject of a court battle (see “West Goshen wins Round 2”)

Relocating the valve station. Because of the legal challenge, Sunoco is hinting that it may build the valve station (and the flare stack) in one of the neighboring municipalities. In a recent conference call with investors, a spokesperson said “We’re evaluating the relocation or elimination of this valve as well as other alternatives that we believe will allow us to move forward with this portion of the project in the near future.” And later in response to a question in the same call: “I think that there are a number of different ways to resolve this issue involving some land out there. And we feel very, very confident that we will have this issue resolved in a fairly short order.”

This clearly suggests that Sunoco is looking at other sites for the valve station. These valve stations are required at intervals along the Dragonpipe for both the safety and maintenance of the pipeline. They are used to isolate a given section of the pipeline in case of a problem or at times when the pipeline undergoes a periodic internal inspection.  And the flare stack is required to burn off excess gas. That might be necessary if there is a problem causing overpressure in the pipe, or if the pipe has to be purged so that a leak can be fixed, for example. Presumably, the valve station cannot be eliminated entirely, but it doesn’t have to be in West Goshen.

Like a huge blowtorch: very bright and very loud. There are several reasons you might not want a flare stack in your neighborhood. Safety is probably not one of them. If safety were the only criterion, I would rather live near a flare stack (where gas is being burned in a controlled manner) than near the rest of the pipeline (where an explosion would be disastrous).

But there are other issues that make a flare stack a bad match for a residential area. You can think of the flare stack as a giant blowtorch, with gas emerging from the top in an intense, controlled explosion. It is extremely bright and extremely loud. Flaring might not happen frequently, but when it does, it can last for many hours or even days. And with that amount of combustion going on, some amount of air pollution is likely too.

So where will it be? Sunoco doesn’t have a lot of options for relocating the valve station. It has to be on the pipeline route, and it has to be fairly close to the intended West Goshen location. To me, the most likely choices would seem be in West Whiteland (perhaps on the labor union property on Lincoln Highway) or in East Goshen (perhaps at the Goshen Corporate Center site). If you live in one of those areas and you don’t want this valve station, you need to immediately get a public commitment from each member of your local board of supervisors that they will not permit it. Check your municipal website for their contact information.

It could also be somewhere else. Municipalities along the pipeline route that are farther from West Goshen are less likely sites, but who knows? Make sure that your local supervisors (or local equivalent) are on record opposing the valve station and its flare stack.

Note added 11-15-17: The suggestion has been made to me that the flare stack might not have to be located where the valve station is located. If true, that would mean the valve station could be moved out of W. Goshen but the flare stack could still be located there, perhaps near the water tanks on Boot Road where there is a previously-existing flare stack. I am not in a position to judge whether that could be done.