An ordinary air permit process for a pump station to an underground natural gas line in Lebanon County is getting extraordinary attention. Nearly 500 people asked the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to hold a public airing on the impact of the project; only 40 of those requests came from local residents.
Pumps for natural gas lines rarely command this level of public scrutiny. The environmental impact is negligible as the pump is expected to emit, at most, one quarter of a ton of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) a year. In contrast, a proposed soybean processing plant in Lancaster County is expected to emit over 200 tons per year. Twenty-six people, all local, requested a hearing there, DEP records show.
"We get less attention for new natural gas power plants," said one DEP official referring to the pump. Clearly, it’s not the pump but what it’s connected to that’s drawing all the outside interest. The pump is part of a project by Sunoco Logistics SXL to reverse the flow of a pipeline to bring ethane, butane, and propane (wet gasses) extracted from the Marcellus Shale to the old Marcus Hook refinery site near Philadelphia. Sunoco Logistics has another pipeline in the works; both are part of the Mariner East project.
A recent study by Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions, Inc. said projects are expected to add up to $4.2 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy, supporting more than 30,000 jobs during the construction period and approximately 300-400 permanent jobs.
The Econsult Solutions Inc. study (click HERE to read) measured the direct, indirect and the induced economic benefits of the Mariner East Project.
"Call it what you like, multiplier, ripple or spillover effect of the project," said Stephen P. Mullin, President of Econsult. "The point is we are all intertwined .We’re not just a bunch of silos."
One example of Mullin’s point from his study: "The service of transporting and processing NGLs (wet gases) from the Marcellus and Utica shales provided by SXL will have an economic impact on the manufacturing industry in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Mariner East projects will increase the locally available domestic supply of propane and ethane to residential and commercial consumers in the region. It will impact the stability of the NGL supply in the region, potentially allowing for new and expanded manufacturing opportunities along the East Coast. In addition to solidifying the plans for the new service delivery by the Mariner East projects, SXL is currently evaluating other service opportunities in the region."
Recently, Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta, Canada made the same point in an NPR interview discussing the Keystone XL pipeline:
"On both sides of the border, we have benefited from an integrated energy system that is the biggest and the most successful in the world. So when we talk about this pipeline, it’s not just a single pipeline. It is part of an infrastructure that we’ve built over the last 50 years. That’s given us the highest standard of living in the world. And so we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that what we’re building together as North Americans under the Free Trade Agreement is an integrated energy system. And this is one pipeline. There are many others that perform a similar role. The purpose of this pipeline is not to carry oil to ports to be exported. It actually carries Canadian oil to American refineries that have been purpose-built to process the stuff, which creates jobs in the United States. So it’s not just about the jobs of construction. I mean, this is part of a permanent industrial infrastructure that creates all kinds of jobs in the United States – in refining, in ports and so on."
The high level of interest is coming from those opposed to the development of conventional energy sources, and however inadvertently, what that development brings: economic growth and thousands of new jobs. They decided to wage their war in Lebanon County.
Policy analysts say the opposition to the Sunoco Logistics plan has the same underpinnings as the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline planned from Canada to refineries in the southern United States. The outsiders have managed to delay that project – one that has passed every environmental examination — for six years.
"The motivation extends far beyond the singular project," said Nicolas Laris, an economist at the Heritage Foundation who focuses on energy, environmental and regulatory issues. "They want to stop the hydrocarbon industry and don’t care about the down-the-line impact on consumers and workers."
PMA Executive Director David N. Taylor says the project’s Green opponents have no interest in the workers whose jobs and wages will be lost. "Thankfully, we have every confidence the Mariner project will be completed as planned, resurrecting Marcus Hook and connecting Pennsylvania to a more prosperous future," Taylor said.
Just a few years ago, the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex site was on its way to becoming another relic of bygone industrial glory. In 2012 Delta Airlines, through its subsidiary Monroe Energy, bought the old Trainer Refinery and began the turnaround. Since then, Sunoco Logistics is taking it to places that were inconceivable just years ago.
For Dennis Martire, Vice President /Regional Manager of the Laborers International Union of North America in the Mid-Atlantic Region, the project will only add to what Shale development has already meant for his members. "Studies in the past about the number of jobs created by the Shale have been pretty well right on so I have no reason to doubt the numbers in the (Econsult) report, " Martire said. "My members (25,000 of them) had 15 million hours last year from the Shale alone last year."
Martire added that he "hates" when those opposed to Keystone and other pipeline projects dismiss the impact of the number of jobs by referring to them as temporary. "Temporary jobs make our careers," he said. "That’s what we do. Move from contractor to contractor. But we can’t do it if the development isn’t there."
Others looking forward to the project include members of Operating Engineers Local 66. Shale development brought the 7,000 member group back from 10 percent unemployment a few years ago to close to zero, said James Kunz, Business Manager for the local.
"We’ll be represented there," Kunz said referring to the February 17 hearing. "I have two sons who work in the industry. We take the highest standards in safety in not only building the lines but to ensure it remains the absolute safest way to transport gas."
The economic benefits extend well beyond the construction of the line and the revamping of the Marcus Hook Facility. Business down the line, including suppliers, hotels and restaurants, will benefit from Mariner. One of them will be Mario Giambrone, owner of Italiano’s restaurant in Marcus Hook, whose business started to turn around with the Delta purchase of the Trainer refinery. "You can talk about it anyway you like in terms of the number of hoagies and pizzas but first with Monroe and now this it’s a godsend for this town and my business," Giambrone said.
To view a recent PMA Perspective episode on this project, click here:
The public DEP hearing is scheduled for February 17 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Quentin Volunteer Fire Company Hall, 20 South Lebanon St., Lebanon.
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