Sunoco seems to be at it again. I don’t usually deal in speculation in this blog, but this post is an exception. Sunoco is being secretive about its plans; and until it is more forthcoming, we will be dealing with a little bit of evidence and a lot of speculation.
As many readers know, in a fit of desperation last summer, Sunoco reversed the flow of an old 12-inch petroleum pipeline to bypass incomplete parts of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). They connected the old pipe to sections of the new pipe and called the result “Mariner East 2”. We call it the “Frankenpipe”, and it is most certainly not the new 20-inch line that Sunoco called “Mariner East 2” until the middle of last year. We think Sunoco’s desperation may have been due to contracts that required the company to start products flowing through “Mariner East 2” by the end of 2018.
Now, there are indications that Sunoco is working on another desperation project. This time it may involve reversing and repurposing an old 8-inch pipeline that runs from Elverson (near Morgantown) to the Exton area via the crossroads community of Icedale. The federal pipeline maps show the pipeline as two segments: “Icedale – Elverson” and “Twin Oaks – Icedale”. (I find no evidence that the latter segment actually runs all the way to Twin Oaks, which is next to Marcus Hook. Rather, it seems to connect with the Mariner East lines in the vicinity of Exton. And some of the markers on the line say “Swedesford – Icedale”, which suggests a termination near Exton.) The map below provides an overview.
Sunoco, as is typical, has been totally silent about this plan. All we know is that surveying teams have been staking out the pipeline’s route, in preparation for—something. If the recent conversion of the 12-inch line is any guide, there will probably be inline (“pig”) inspections and pressure testing, the results of which no one will ever see, and then NGLs will start flowing. (And who knows: maybe Sunoco will start calling this pipeline “Mariner East 2x”.) At that point, many parts of northern Chester County that didn’t have to worry about the Mariner East system previously will be in the blast zone.
Is the Marsh Creek dam at risk? How about Downingtown? Aside from the risk to homes, schools, businesses, and churches along the route, one of the issues that was immediately raised about repurposing this pipeline was its proximity to the Marsh Creek dam. It runs within about 800 feet of the dam.
Is it possible that the heat or explosive force of a pipeline explosion could cause the dam to fail? If it did, not only would the County lose a major source of drinking water, but there would be catastrophic downstream flooding. The water would flood Brandywine Creek, which flows through the heart of Downingtown, less than 4 miles downstream. So it is prudent to ask whether that is really a threat.
The “jet fire” resulting from the rupture of a pipeline carrying NGLs has been known to weaken structural steel to the point of failure. NGLs are far more dangerous and destructive than ordinary natural gas. (If you want the details, read my blog post called “Yes, this pipeline is much more dangerous. Here’s exactly why”.) I don’t know anything about the structure of the Marsh Creek dam, so I have no idea if an explosion or jet fire could damage it. But this is something that urgently needs to be known before this pipeline is put into operation.
Could my speculation be wrong? It is entirely possible that the whole premise of this blog post is wrong. Sunoco could be surveying the Icedale line for a completely different reason than the conversion of the pipeline to NGL transportation. Perhaps this is routine maintenance. I would be glad to be proven wrong in this situation. But time and again, Sunoco’s secrecy has concealed something bad for the community. Unfortunately, with this company, we have to assume the worst.
Here’s what you can do.
- First, Chester County officials must insist that Sunoco share their plans for this pipeline. You can contact the County here: http://chesco.org/FormCenter/Commissioners-24/Citizen-Feedback-Form-107
- Contact your state senator and state representative. If you don’t know who they are or how to contact them, use this website: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/
- Finally, Governor Wolf has emergency powers that would let him stop the entire Mariner East project immediately until it is proven safe. Contact him here: https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/.
Let them know you want them to find out exactly what Sunoco is up to!