Sunoco pipeline meeting attracts friends, foes

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The proposed 50-mile pipeline that will slice through southern and central Westmoreland County drew opponents, supporters and concerned emergency management officials to an informational session on Monday in the Hutchinson Fire Hall in Sewickley Township.

“If there is an accident (along the pipeline), I want to know how we can gain access to the site,” Paul Rupnik Jr., director of the Sewickley Township Emergency Management Agency, said as he viewed a map of the route of the Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. pipeline.

During a three-hour open house, Rupnik spoke with Sunoco Logistics representatives about how the fire department response in the event of an accident along Sunoco's Mariner East pipeline. He said local fire departments would play a supporting role, essentially securing the scene for specially trained companies with the equipment to handle pipeline accidents.

The pipeline would transport the byproducts of the region's Marcellus shale gas well production from the MarkWest Energy Partners L.P. natural gas processing plant near Houston in Washington County to Sunoco's terminal near Delmont.

From there, it would be transported by an existing pipeline to Sunoco's refinery in Marcus Hook, south of Philadelphia along the Delaware River.

The ethane, a component of natural gas, is used as a feedstock in the production of plastics.

The pipeline will affect about 400 property owners in Washington, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, said Joseph McGinn, a spokesman for Sunoco Logistics. It will cross the Monongahela River into Forward in Allegheny County, then cut through 35 miles in Westmoreland County. It will enter the county at Rostraver, cross the Youghiogheny River at Collinsburg and enter South Huntingdon. It will run through parts of Sewickley, Hempfield, Jeannette, Penn Township, Murrysville and Salem.

James Ferens of Darragh, a pipeline supporter whose Hempfield farm sits along the route, said he sees the greater good in the pipeline and others like it.

“I'm all for it. They are improving our nation. It's getting fuel to the industry, and that helps people,” said Ferens, who has two pipelines running through his farm.

Despite the pipelines beneath his farm, Ferens said he still grows crops on the soil above them.

“There is very little environmental impact. You can still farm on it and you can make hay,” and the soil is replenished for growth in a few years, Ferens said.

Ferens said the company pays “fair market value” for the right of way.

McGinn said that Sunoco Logistics takes a 50-foot permanent right of way for the pipeline, plus a temporary 25-foot right of way to work on the pipeline.

Michael J. Zima and his wife, Laurie, whose farm on Wachs Road in South Huntingdon would be affected by the pipeline, are fighting Sunoco Pipeline in court. A an evidentiary hearing on the company's attempt to obtain a right of way through the family's property by eminent domain is scheduled for Nov. 19 in the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas.

“We're really upset,” said Carol Gracon, Zima's sister and one of the three defendants in Sunoco's lawsuit. Gracon said she had planned to build a house on the property where the pipeline would be placed.

Gracon said Sunoco did not try to negotiate with the family.

“In the process of negotiations (with a property owner), eminent domain is the last resort,” McGinn said.

Sunoco has estimated that the Mariner East pipeline, the Mariner West pipeline that runs from Ohio to the MarkWest processing plant, and improvements at the Marcus Hook terminal will cost about $600 million.

McGinn said the pipeline will be a boost to local employment, because the pipe is being purchased from U.S. Steel Corp.'s pipe plant in McKeesport, and Dura-Bond Industries will apply a special coating to the pipe.

Another informational meeting with Sunoco representatives is planned for 5:30 to 9 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Harrison Room in the Harrison City fire hall at 1010 Mill St., Harrison City.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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