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Residents, Labor and Energy Execs Urge DEP To Approve DelVal Pipeline Expansion

After years of anti-pipeline activism across the Delaware Valley, local citizens lined up on a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) public comment call Wednesday to plead: Please build this pipeline.

Developed by Transco and Williams, the Regional Energy Access Expansion Project is a natural gas expansion project that would extend across several Pennsylvania counties including Bucks, Chester, and Delaware. The idea from Williams is to “enhance existing energy infrastructure and increase Northeast consumer access to clean, affordable natural gas.”

Doing so “will help ease supply constraints affecting customers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, providing enough natural gas supply to serve approximately 3 million homes,” the company added.

On Wednesday’s “Virtual Public Hearing” call with DEP, John DeSantis, a retired New York City schoolteacher living in Philadelphia, said inflation is hammering his budget.

“They say inflation is nearing 10 percent, but our electric bills are up around 25 (percent),” said DeSantis. “Vitamins cost more, Cheerios cost more, and we’ve had to make hard choices such as cutting out cable TV and sacrificing trips to our family in New York.”

Part of the reason why DeSantis said he moved to Philadelphia was because of the lower cost of living compared to New York City.

“We said to ourselves ‘things are much better here, what we’re saving in New York taxes and different costs.’ But that’s all been eaten away by everything that’s happened over the last year and a half,” said DeSantis. “So the approval and expansion of the pipeline will increase jobs, lower inflation, and restore prosperity to many, (which is why) I urge the DEP to support its continuation of the pipeline.”

A food distribution center operator named Corrine told DEP that people are choosing between paying bills and buying food.

“I’d like to see them be able to make the right choices and not have to spend their money on gas bills and high energy costs,” said Corrine. “It’s so hard to see people pull up to a food distribution and you realize they’re living out of their vehicle because they can’t afford a home and they can’t afford gas and heat.” The DEP’s approval of the pipeline would be a win/win for everyone, said Corrine. “Fuels will help everybody. The more money coming into the system, the more people who are able to benefit from lower costs of these fuels.”

Not everyone is a fan of the pipeline project. Delaware Riverkeeper Network, for example, told DEP it “does not support this project” because of potential negative impacts it may have on the environment. Critics of pipelines point to the recently-completed Mariner East pipeline, which encountered multiple problems during its construction.

Marion Davis with the International Teamsters pushed back, telling DEP that safety is a priority. If not, Davis said, “we would not have work for our members to work on.” Jason Hayes of the International Union of Operating Engineers also spoke about what he described as the “sometimes over-the-top safety procedures and environmental protections” with pipelines. “I’ve personally seen over the years, the safety and environmental protections of the number one priority of Transco and the contractors building these projects,” said Hayes.

Multiple studies have found pipelines are the safest way to move liquified fuels.

Industry groups and think tanks also urged DEP to approve the project. Stephanie Catarino Wissman of the American Petroleum Institute (API) Pennsylvania testified about the “importance of pipeline infrastructure construction and expansion” in the state.

“Pipelines are the safe connection between consumers and America’s abundant, reliable, cleaner energy,” Wissman said. “Additional infrastructure is needed so that no matter where people live, they can be better served – expanding the benefit of domestic energy abundance.”

And, Wissman added, API establishes and maintains over 700 industry standards and recommended practices.

Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, says the current energy crunch is a reminder that “affordable natural gas is not getting to markets that need it because of pipeline capacity limitations. Keep in mind that a portion of this pipeline in eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania is in the same area where PennEast was proposed but pulled. Opponents cheered that setback, but these constraints weaken our economy, hurt consumers, and deny skilled laborers good-paying jobs.

“The resurgence of pipeline work here is encouraging, demonstrating just how important it is for us to continue investments in energy infrastructure projects that are essential to our economy and security,” Knaus added.

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State Approves Pipeline Modification As Part of Marsh Creek Settlement

In the wake of last year’s spill of non-toxic drilling fluid into Marsh Creek, Energy Transfer — the company building the Mariner East 2 pipeline — went to the state and asked for a modification to its permit, essentially saying, “Let us finish the final section of this $2.5 billion, 350-mile project using traditional open cut trenching rather than the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) we’ve been using.”

On Monday, the state Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Conservation and Natural Resources jointly announced they had reached an agreement with Energy Transfer that allows the major modification. The agreement also permits a minor adjustment to the pipeline’s final path in Upper Uwchlan Township in Chester County.

As a result, after years of heated opposition from green activists, the completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline is now all but certain.

“We are pleased that our permit modifications have been approved for the installation of our final pipeline segment in Chester County,” ET’s Lisa Coleman said in a statement. “Once installed, construction of the full Mariner East pipeline will be complete, of which the majority is already in service.”

The modification was part of a larger settlement to address the damage done in the Marsh Creek area during the HDD process. The company is paying a $4 million fine and has agreed to “dredging at minimum the top 6 inches of sediment in about 15 acres of Ranger Cove” at Marsh Creek State Park. The company will also make some cosmetic repairs to the area and pay a civil penalty of $341,000 to the Clean Water Fund.

Ironically, ET chose the more expensive and complex HDD process, as opposed to the traditional open-trench system, in an attempt to reduce the impact of the pipeline’s construction on local communities.

For supporters of the pipeline and the energy jobs it supports, the settlement is viewed as a win.

“This modification has broad support because it’s best for the community, good for the environment, and safe for workers,” said Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance (PEIA). Knaus also notes that, if pipeline opponents hadn’t continued their “delay-at-all-costs” strategy, the pipeline could be delivering propane to southeastern Pennsylvania right now.

“The news of this approval comes at a time when many Pennsylvanians are worried about rising energy prices,” Knaus said. “Mariner East delivers valuable natural gas resources like propane, which heats homes and powers businesses.

“Our hope was that this project would have been completed by the onset of the colder winter months when the market needs it most, but the delay in the permit approval makes this improbable. At least now we can finally get to work to finish this project and soon realize its full potential in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Critics of the project dismiss any local impact on energy supplies, claiming that most of the products that make it to the Marcus Hook Terminal are exported abroad. In fact, according to ET more than 44 percent of the propane sold from Marcus Hook stays in Pennsylvania. And more than 90 percent stays within the four-state region (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey).

While other forms of natural gas liquids (NGLs) that come through the facility may be mostly sold as exports, “the volume of propane sold from truck racks at Marcus Hook every day is enough to meet up to 22 percent of Pennsylvania’s total propane demand in winter months,” ET reports. It’s a valuable resource should there be a repeat of the 2014 polar vortex, helping prevent the skyrocketing costs and lack of supply.

However, as recently as October 28, local Democratic state Reps. Dianne Herrin, Danielle Friel Otten, and state Sen. Katie Muth were still demanding the state shut down the entire pipeline, even in the face of rising energy costs and predictions of winter supply shortages.

“I am once again calling on Gov. Tom Wolf, the DEP, and the PUC to revoke Energy Transfer’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania,” Friel Otten said.

Thanks to Monday’s settlement agreement, that is highly unlikely to happen.

“The NGLs transported through Mariner East are critical to our supply chain as the building blocks used to manufacture the products we use daily,” Coleman said. “Also part of today’s approval is our agreement with the DEP and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to remediate and restore the impacted portion of Marsh Creek Lake that occurred in August 2020 during pipeline construction. We look forward to working with them on this restoration effort.”

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