INEOS Insight
Ineos Insight, one of the eight “dragon ships” carrying ethane to Europe. (Photo: Ineos)

It’s official. The federal Energy Information Agency says it in its annual report: the US is now a net exporter of natural gas. It is a net exporter of ethane, butane, and propane too. The US has more of these products than it needs. And the same report says that the country will become a net exporter of crude oil by 2022. Thanks to fracking, the US is awash in all forms of drilled hydrocarbons.

That means that all new pipeline construction, like the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2), and all repurposing projects, like Adelphia Gateway, are primarily for export. The domestic market is already saturated.

That’s a good thing for the US balance of trade, and perhaps for the shareholders of the companies involved in fracking, transporting, and processing petroleum products, but it does nothing for the general public. We already have what we need.

Does it really matter? In Pennsylvania, it matters. At least, it is supposed to. An important legal issue surrounds the question of whether a given pipeline company has a “public purpose” as determined by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). If it does, then the company can behave as a “public utility”, giving it the right to use eminent domain to take land and to ignore local zoning regulations. That is exactly what has led to many of the abuses involved in the construction of the Dragonpipe.

Unfortunately, the PUC is allowing certificates issued in the 1930s to be used as evidence of public purpose, despite the fact that those certificates covered pipelines that transported different products, in the reverse direction. The PUC even allows new, parallel pipelines to be constructed as an “expansion” of those 1930s pipelines, based on the same certificates. That’s what is happening with the Dragonpipe.

It’s a new era, and new rules are needed. With domestic requirements satisfied, what is the “public purpose” of new pipelines? The answer: there is none. The purpose is the profit of drillers and pipeline companies. The rewards go to their shareholders and perhaps to the overseas purchasers. Pennsylvanians are left with all the risks and none of the benefits.

The PUC’s rules are outdated. They reflect a time when consumers really needed the assurance of an unimpeded flow of petroleum products, and sometimes that required access to private land or overriding zoning. That time has now passed.

Let Governor Wolf and your legislators know that it is time to change the rules and the philosophy of the PUC. It has become a tool of the petroleum industry, not a servant of the public.