wellington with pipeline construction (Eric 10-16-18)
Mariner East construction alongside the Wellington Retirement Community, Chester County. An accident here would be catastrophic. (Photo: Eric Friedman)

I recently encountered a pipeline newbie: someone who was just learning about the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). He wanted to get up to speed and asked for more information, and I realized there was no single source that would provide a general introduction.

So here is a summary for those new to Mariner East (or those interested in a refresher) with links to take you deeper. Some of the links are to blog posts that are not completely up-to-date, but you’ll get the idea. Please share this post widely with others who need a broad overview.

  1. Is this set of pipelines more dangerous than others? Yes, it is far more dangerous. Of the dozens of pipelines in Pennsylvania, this is far and away the most dangerous. The so-called “natural gas liquids” (highly-compressed flammable gases—ethane, propane, and butane) carried by these pipelines are an order of magnitude more dangerous than natural gas. Here are the basics: https://dragonpipediary.com/2018/11/18/yes-this-pipeline-is-much-more-dangerous-heres-exactly-why/. Want some examples of what could happen? Try these.
    Here is how a big chunk of Mechanicsburg could become a massive fireball: https://dragonpipediary.com/2019/01/30/mechanicsburg-could-suffer-a-pipeline-catastrophe/
    Here is how Pennell Elementary and the surrounding Aston neighborhood could go up in flames: https://dragonpipediary.com/2018/11/24/aston-at-risk-the-pipeline-danger-at-pennell-elementary-school/
    Here is how the Wellington Retirement Community would be devastated by an explosion: https://dragonpipediary.com/2018/10/08/modeling-the-potential-for-a-disaster-at-wellington/
  2. How good is this particular operator at complying with environmental regulations? Very bad. More than a year ago, the Department of Environmental Protection temporarily halted construction because of “willful and egregious violations” of a variety of regulations. Some detail is here: https://dragonpipediary.com/2018/01/05/sunocos-no-nos-highlights-from-the-january-3-dep-order/. Unfortunately, things have not improved since then. In addition, Sunoco has been cheating on its air pollution permits at Marcus Hook. https://dragonpipediary.com/2019/01/10/sunoco-caught-dodging-air-pollution-regulations-in-marcus-hook/
  3. Is this company maintaining its pipelines properly? No, it isn’t. The poster child for this problem is the well-documented 2017 leak near Morgantown, due to corrosion from sloppy maintenance. This is likely to be a problem for Mariner East 1 (a very old pipeline) all across the state. https://dragonpipediary.com/2018/12/26/sunoco-sat-by-while-me1-rusted/
  4. Are laws being broken? Yes, many. Here’s a place to start: https://dragonpipediary.com/2019/03/21/the-sos-rally-and-17-ways-sunoco-may-have-violated-the-law-plus-many-more/
  5. Where is the Public Utility Commission (our pipeline regulator)? The PUC has been slow to act, but there are signs of progress. Here is a list of the eight cases currently before the PUC, with a summary of each. https://dragonpipediary.com/annotated-listing-of-pipeline-related-cases-before-the-puc/
  6. What’s it all for? It is for the production of plastic in Europe. According to Sunoco testimony before the PUC, at least 90% of the material carried by this pipeline system is for export, and most of that is for plastic. The largest component is ethane, which is used exclusively for plastic production: polyethylene (the most common clear plastic), polyvinyl chloride (e.g. plastic pipe), and polystyrene (e.g. Styrofoam). More here: https://dragonpipediary.com/2017/12/16/plastic-products-this-is-what-our-lives-are-being-risked-for/

And I’ll spare you the issues surrounding fracking (which is where this stuff comes from), climate change (which is what it causes), and ocean pollution (which is where it ends up). I’m sure you know all that already.