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Westmoreland

Merits of Laurel Pipeline fuel flow reversal debated

Patrick Varine
| Saturday, March 10, 2018, 11:00 p.m.

Some state lawmakers, including Westmoreland state Sen. Kim Ward, are throwing their support behind a Houston company's proposal to reverse the flow of its Pennsylvania fuel line west of Altoona to bring more Midwestern fuel into the region.

Laurel Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Houston-based Buckeye Partners, is seeking permission from the state's Public Utility Commission to partially reverse the Laurel Pipeline to bring as many as 40,000 barrels of fuel from Midwestern producers into Western Pennsylvania.

Ward, R-Hempfield — who along with fellow senators Camera Bartolotta, R-Canonsburg, Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills, and Elder Vogel, R-Beaver, sent a March 2 letter of support to the commission — wrote that approval of the project “will benefit Pennsylvania consumers and our economy by expanding access to more affordable fuels.”

State Reps. Jim Christiana, R-Brighton, and Gary Day, R-Heidelberg Township, agreed in a January column in the Trib.

“The section of pipeline that Buckeye seeks to reverse is increasingly under-utilized by East Coast refiners that have access to many other markets,” Christiana and Day wrote. “Midwest refiners, on the other hand, can use that section to deliver additional supplies of lower-cost American-made fuel to more Pennsylvanians.”

Executives from two companies that use the fuel coming through the Laurel pipeline, however, do not agree.

Sheetz Executive Vice President Mike Lorenz and Giant Eagle Get-Go Senior Vice President Polly Flinn said the reversal will eliminate competition from East Coast fuel refineries in a February letter to the Trib.

“There is little upside but plenty of downside to the proposed reversal,” Lorenz and Flinn wrote. “Midwest refiners already have access to Pennsylvania markets and currently compete with supply from the East Coast.”

James Kunz Jr., business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66 said his union is in support of the reversal.

“Midwest refiners are turning the increased supply of North American crude oil into more affordable fuels,” Kunz wrote in a February letter to the Public Utility Commission. “Without access to those supplies, though, Pennsylvania consumers will continue to unnecessarily rely on overseas imports, which are less reliable and more expensive.”

The Public Utility Commission has been considering the application since November 2016.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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