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Sunoco hears Westmoreland County residents' concerns, agrees to reroute pipeline

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:12 a.m.

After months of complaints from North Huntingdon home­owners, a Philadelphia pipeline company agreed to move a proposed hazardous gas pipeline's path away from Westmoreland County's populous western suburbs.

Sunoco Logistics Partners LP will try to move the line farther east, to more rural areas of the county, where it can parallel a gas pipeline Dominion installed in 2011, spokesman Joe McGinn said. The goal is to ease safety concerns suburban residents raised and have a better chance at buying rights of way, a process the company hasn't started, McGinn said.

“It's always occurred to me that that was an easier solution for them,” said Gary Kelso, 57, one of several North Huntingdon homeowners who fought to stop the pipeline from crossing their land. “I'm hoping that going that way saves at least half of the people grief.”

Many residents were surprised late last year to learn the company was seeking to acquire land and hadn't ruled out trying to use eminent domain. Safety experts had said the liquid gas cargo would be some of the most dangerous for a residential area. During leaks, it forms a thick cloud and hovers until it finds an ignition source, experts said.

Moving the pipeline away from suburbs probably is a safer option, said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, an independent group in Bellingham, Wash. It may seem that putting pipelines next to one another might heighten risks during explosions, but several large pipeline explosions have happened in recent years without damaging nearby lines, he said.

The pipeline will be about a 45-mile spur from a processing plant in Chartiers to a pipeline hub in Delmont. It's part of the Mariner East project, which will move as many as 70,000 barrels of ethane and propane from Western Pennsylvania shale gas wells for export from Philadelphia.

Range Resources Corp., the dominant driller in Washington County, supplies most of that gas and has contracts to ship half of it to Europe. The move will not affect that business or those contracts for Range, company spokesman Matt Pitzarella said.

McGinn didn't immediately have details about how many homes will be along the new pipeline route. It still may have suburban areas to go through around Canonsburg, Forward, Elizabeth, Jeannette and Penn. Sunoco Logistics officials are still deciding the path of the line and plan to meet with residents and emergency officials in its area, McGinn said.

Kelso said he was more relieved than happy, knowing other homeowners in neighboring municipalities may have to deal with the risk he is avoiding. Others feared the growing gas industry, with more pipelines being built everywhere, could be back in North Huntingdon before long.

“I'm very happy. My wife, I think, is happier than I am,” said Dominic Rossetti, 66, of the Markview Manor neighborhood. “But I think it's only a matter of time before someone else comes along.”

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

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