News

Pipelines converge in Lebanon County

Written by Daniel Walmer/Lebanon Daily News | Jan 4, 2016 1:11 PM
Atlantic-Sunrie-map.jpg

This map shows the currently proposed route of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline through a highly developed area between Palmyra and Annville, as well as previously rejected routes.(Photo: Submitted by the Quittapahilla Watershed Association)

The proposed natural gas transmission lines have fueled debate throughout the county.

(Undated) -- Lebanon County isn't built on the Marcellus Shale formations that have made Pennsylvania an epicenter of an international natural gas boom -- but the county and its residents have still found themselves in the midst of major debates over its transportation.

Advocates and opponents largely agree that the least dangerous way to transport natural gas is through transmission pipelines, and two major pipelines are slated to run through Lebanon County.

The closest to construction is the Mariner East 2 pipeline project, which will take natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook complex near Philadelphia, crossing southern Lebanon County from west to east in the process. That pipeline is expected to be constructed next year and be operational by the end of 2016, according to the website of Philadelphia-based pipeline owner Sunoco Logistics.

A second pipeline -- owned by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams -- would transport natural gas (not natural gas liquids) from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, where it would connect with the approximately 10,000-mile Transcontinental Pipeline. That pipeline would bisect western Lebanon County from north to south and is targeted for a summer 2016 construction start date and a summer 2017 operational date, according to Williams.

Williams says the exportation and transportation of natural gas is safe, will create jobs, and will help make America energy-independent.

As construction plans for both pipelines have become clearer, however, they have stirred opposition in Lebanon County from both environmental activists and landowners concerned about private property rights.

Members of anti-pipeline group Lebanon Pipeline Awareness are challenging the wisdom of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline head-on, questioning the permanency of its jobs and its value to American energy independence since it will be part of an international pipeline system that includes exports.

Group member Michael Schroeder said he knows the deck is stacked against their ability to stop the pipeline. But that doesn't make it impossible for citizens to challenge big corporations and big government, he said.

"If there were 10,000 people in the streets of Lebanon protesting against this, that would make a difference," he said.

But not all Lebanon County residents are unhappy about new pipelines underneath or near their properties. South Annville Township Supervisor Chet Horst said he's spoken to several farmers who are satisfied with their interactions with pipeline companies -- and in the big picture, energy independence helps everyone.

"I look at the whole thing as a blessing," Horst said. "All of a sudden, (Pennsylvania) is one of the big players in energy, and to shut it down would be ludicrous."

Supporters and opponents have engaged in a series of fights throughout the county. Annville and South Londonderry townships passed ordinances opposing the Williams pipeline, while Union and South Annville townships refused to do so. The accompanying map points out four other battlegrounds:

1)  Appalachian Trail at the Union Township/ Cold Spring Township border.

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline will cross the Appalachian Trail in northern Union Township, right next to the Cold Spring Township border. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is advocating that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission limit the total amount of pipelines crossing the trail and that they be built where there is already a trail disturbance, like a roadway, director of conservation Laura Belleville said.

2) Heidelberg Township eminent domain proceedings.

Sunoco Logistics' attempts to acquire easements for its Mariner East 2 pipeline have met roadblocks at three Heidelberg Township properties. The owners are challenging Sunoco's right to eminent domain, and a decision by Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Robert Eby is expected as soon as early January.

3) Annville bottleneck.

Pipeline objectors say the "Annville bottleneck" -- the area between Annville and Palmyra where the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline must cross Route 422 -- leaves Williams with no good route to avoid development and safety concerns.

Early plans called for the pipeline to skirt Annville's western edge, but concerns about the route's proximity to the Annville sewage treatment plant prompted the Annville Township supervisors to pass a resolution in February opposing the pipeline.

Williams later adjusted the proposed route to the west, but there are now safety concerns about its proximity to Pennsy Supply's Millard Quarry and a planned Rutter's Farm Store and gas station at the southeast corner of the intersection of Route 422 and Clear Spring Road, according to Michael Schroeder, a member of Lebanon Pipeline Awareness.

MFS Inc. -- which owns land on the south side of Route 422 -- remains embroiled in a dispute with Williams over a proposed pipeline route it says could impact its ability to complete development plans.

The South Annville Township supervisors recently refused to pass a resolution opposing the pipeline, but they filed a motion to intervene with FERC in June saying the route through MFS Inc.'s property would have "the worst possible negative effect" on jobs and tax revenues in the township.

4) Pump station.

Sunoco Logistics built a pump station along Route 322 in West Cornwall Township for its planned Mariner East 2 pipeline, but the legality of that action is being challenged in court by members of Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County.

The organization first challenged Sunoco's building permits in 2014 as not in accordance with the township's zoning ordinance, group member Pam Bishop said.

In a separate case in October 2014, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said Sunoco is a public utility and asked administrative law judges to decide if Sunoco could build a structure without regard for local zoning laws. After that, Sunoco said it no longer needed any local permits in West Cornwall Township except for an enclosure surrounding the pump station.

Concerned Citizens members then challenged those permits, but the West Cornwall Zoning Hearing Board ruled Oct. 27, 2015, that the group members lacked standing because they were not directly impacted by the walls. Concerned Citizens appealed in December to the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas, arguing that they aren't challenging the walls themselves but Sunoco's claim that it needs no additional permits.

Their appeal should at least be stayed until other cases that could shed further light on Sunoco's public utility status are decided, the group argued.

Tomorrow: Are pipelines safe in Lebanon County's limestone-prone geology and what is their impact on property values?


This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily Record and WITF.

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