Pipeline project creates unease in Westmoreland County

| Saturday, May 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Sunoco Logistics pipeline project to connect Washington County gas with a Philadelphia export terminal is facing renewed protests in Westmoreland County, despite the company's attempt to move it away from suburban opposition.

More than a dozen landowners have contacted state Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, about stopping Sunoco Logistics Partners LP from buying rights of way on their land or using eminent domain to take them, his office manager Mary Jo Smith said.

The residents cite frustration from other pipeline projects that are still scarring their land, concerns over private property rights and value, and safety risks.

At stake is part of a $600 million plan Sunoco Logistics has to ship Marcellus shale propane and ethane to Canada and Europe. It received support from Gov. Tom Corbett and Sen. Pat Toomey last fall, then ran into opposition from homeowners along the project's first path through dense parts of North Huntingdon. Sunoco Logistics responded this year by pushing the path farther east, along two pipelines that already exist.

“I wasn't happy about two lines. Three lines is unacceptable. This is where I draw the line because if I don't, it's going to be four,” said Barbara Frieze, 61, of Sewickley. “If one of those babies blow, they're going to find bits of us blown all over Herminie.”

Company officials are still pushing to acquire land and start the project by this fall, spokesman Joe McGinn said, adding that pipelines are the safest way to transport fuel.

Officials plan to do regular inspections to detect any defects and corrosion, McGinn said. Before the line goes into service in mid-2014, Sunoco Logistics will lead training sessions with emergency responders along the route, he added.

“Our focus is and will always be mitigating risk by operating our lines safely and keeping the products we ship and store intact in their pipes and tanks,” McGinn said.

The company has had 187 accidents causing about $34.5 million in property damage nationwide since 2006, according to federal records. Its only incident in the region happened in Murrysville in 2008, when a plug blew out during maintenance, sending a gusher of gasoline into the air. More than 12,000 gallons in all leaked out, killing aquatic life in 3 miles of Turtle Creek and causing several businesses and homes to be evacuated.

Investigators at the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration blamed the company. Sunoco Logistics agreed to pay $232,900 to PHMSA and $99,000 to the state Fish and Boat Commission.

The accident happened along the same path Sunoco Logistics is using to get the new 50-mile pipeline to a hub in Delmont, said Dan Stevens, deputy emergency management coordinator for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.

Stevens credits Sunoco Logistics for a low accident rate. It has averaged about 25 incidents a year over 6,182 miles of pipeline, and only one, nonfatal injury during that span, according to federal records.

The company has already shared plans and helped lead safety training for emergency responders in both Westmoreland and Washington counties, said Stevens and Jeffrey Yates, the public safety director in Washington County.

“Sunoco Logistics has been a good partner. They've been a good neighbor. They do report and explain to us and to the public what they're doing,” Stevens said.

The Friezes and their neighbor Barry Highberger are suspicious of the industry. Both are still upset with Dominion Resources Inc. for the condition of their land after the company dug out room for an interstate shale gas pipeline there a little more than a year ago.

The right of way is rocky and partly bare as it runs between their rolling countryside properties. On Highberger's dairy farm, the path creates a clear divide in his crops.

Highberger is upset at Sunoco Logistics for repeatedly telling him and other landowners it will use eminent domain to take land its owners won't sell. And he's angry, too, that in the end, the project's goal is to ship fuel abroad. If he can avoid it, he doesn't plan to sell a right of way, no matter how much the company's offer is, he said.

“I don't want no parts of it,” Highberger, 61, said, standing among the crops he's growing to feed his 80 cows. “I look over there and see what's left of the last one, and I don't want to do it again.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy