EDITORIAL: 2 billion reasons to support Sunoco pipeline across Pennsylvania

Ever wonder why the business community and labor unions are such unabashed proponents of building a massive pipeline across the width of Pennsylvania? We can give you 2 to 3 billion reasons why.

That is the economic benefit of having all those natural gas resources flowing into the southeastern part of the state.

A study, titled “Prospects to Enhance Pennsylvania’s Opportunities in Petroleum Manufacturing” concludes that the benefits of pushing as much as 700,000 barrels a day of Marcellus Shale products to the former Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook could mean as much as $2 to $3 billion to the state’s economy.

“Pennsylvania has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop and implement a strategy that will cultivate a manufacturing renaissance and transform our economy across the commonwealth.”

That statement does not come from the chamber of commerce or the natural gas industry. It comes from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. “We must ensure that we make the most of this chance to create good-paying jobs for Pennsylvanians in the petrochemical and plastic industry.”

It’s the latest shot in the heated back and forth between those in favor of the Sunoco Logistics plan to build the pipeline. The new pipeline will merge with an existing line, Mariner East 1, which is already in operation. Butane, ethane and propane will make that 350-mile trek across the Keystone State before arriving in Marcus Hook, where it will be processed and stored before being shipped to customers both foreign and domestic.

So who is Team Pennsylvania Foundation? They’re a non-profit organization that works to connect private and public sector leaders to push progress in the state. They work closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The study lays out a road map to maximize this opportunity, including a push to attract infrastructure and more manufacturing, streamlining the timeline for such projects, and perhaps most important training a workforce with the correct skill set to take full advantage of the industry.

As you might expect, the folks at Sunoco Logistics believe the study is vindication for their plan, which could provide hundreds of solid, family-sustaining jobs and holds the potential to create an energy hub for the entire Northeast.

Not satisfied are those who oppose the plan, again citing pipeline safety as a major cause for concern. Middletown Township in Delaware County, for example, has decided to have an independent risk assessment done on Sunoco’s plan. One of the things they want is development of a clear emergency plan to prepare first responders and the general public for evacuation in the event of a spill or accident.

That is the kind of reaction when a pipeline carrying volatile natural gases at high pressures suddenly moves into the neighborhood. Opponents have been vocal in their objections, putting pressure on both municipalities and school districts to reconsider the easements granted on public property to Sunoco Logistics.

Foes also are vowing to continue the legal fight against the pipeline, despite the courts so far backing the Sunoco Logistics’ plan. The company already has started clearing a path for the pipeline in the western end of the county, despite the ongoing legal wrangling.

The Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, a grassroots organization that opposed the pipeline, has downplayed the economic benefits of the study, instead focusing on continuing concerns for safety.

“The Mariner East 2 pipeline project, promoted by elected officials and business leaders, asks the public to assume extreme and unnecessary risk for a private for-profit export venture,” the organization said in a statement responding to the new study. “MCCS’ independent hazards study forewarns of unacceptable consequences in the event of a Marine East leak and our leaders will be held accountable.”

Mariner East 2 is without question a potential economic blockbuster for the entire region. This latest study reinforces that.

But it does not ally the concerns of those in the community who have to live with this new neighbor.

That is not likely to change anytime soon. We welcome the economic opportunities inherent in Mariner East 2. And we share the community’s concern.