Salem couple unswayed on Mariner East 2 pipeline project as Spectra explosion anniversary nears
Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t quite cut it for some Salem residents when it comes to underground pipelines.
“We came for peace and quiet. We worked very hard for what we have here,” said Joan Pinto, who lives with her husband, Lido, on a rural property that lies in the path of Sunoco Logistics Partners LP’s natural gas pipelines — one already built and two more coming.
When the Pintos bought property along Route 819 and built a house on it over 50 years ago, they were aware of an existing 8-inch pipeline running beneath their land. But they said they never imagined two additional pipelines, both more than double in size, would follow.
The hotly debated Mariner East 2 pipeline project received the final permits necessary for construction in February from state regulators after five public meetings and 29,000 public comments. Construction already has started.
The 20- and 16-inch pipelines will be able to carry 275,000 barrels of liquid natural gas a day and cross 270 properties over 36 miles in Westmoreland County as the Mariner East 2 cuts 350 miles from Ohio and West Virginia to refineries near Philadelphia. The new pipelines will run parallel to the existing Mariner East 1 line.
More than 4 miles of Mariner East 2 will traverse Salem.
With the one-year anniversary of the Spectra pipeline explosion approaching this week, some township residents fear catastrophe is inevitable. Others are not so concerned.
Spectra Energy’s 30-inch natural gas pipeline near the intersection of Routes 22 and 819 ruptured and sparked a massive explosion on April 29. The blast left one man severely burned, incinerated a home and damaged others, charred 40 acres of farmland, melted portions of a highway and negatively impacted the energy futures market.
The explosion launched an investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that spanned 700 locations throughout Pennsylvania and cost between $75 million and $100 million, the Tribune-Review previously reported. The main objective: find out how the explosion happened and ensure it never happens again.
But that doesn’t quell the Pintos’ fears.
“Every time I mention something to (Sunoco Logistics representatives), it’s like, ‘You don’t have to worry about this.’ … ‘It’s nothing.’ But when you see something explode like that … OK? They’re pumping highly volatile liquids through this,” Lido Pinto said. “I worked at a chemical company. I know what can happen when some of these fumes catch on fire. It’s not like lighting a cigar.”
The path of the Mariner East 2 pipelines will cross beneath the Pintos’ driveway — and their only access to a road. Joan Pinto wondered how she and her husband would escape if either line exploded.
Sunoco Logistics spokesman Joe McGinn said the company has safely operated its Mariner system and other pipelines in Pennsylvania. He added that Sunoco works with landowners, supervisors and emergency response teams to prepare for “unlikely incidents,” including pipeline explosions.
Mike Perfetta, chief of the Slickville Volunteer Fire Department, said he stays in contact with a Sunoco pipeline explosion response trainer. The company underwrote a training program with the fire department’s 15-member crew about a year ago, he said, and expects to have another program next month.
The training involves how to efficiently evacuate residents who might be impacted by an explosion or leak and how to properly contain a fire caused by a pipeline explosion. Perfetta is confident that should an explosion happen again, firefighters would keep residents safe.
“The pipeline is very well taken care of, and (Sunoco engineers) know what they’re doing,” he said.
Dean Law, 79, owns a 50-acre plot of land that shares about 900 feet with the Mariner East pipelines. Though he is not happy about the pipeline being on his property, which he rents to several tenants living in mobile homes, another explosion is not a concern for him.
“These accidents happen, but airplanes fall on peoples’ houses, too. It’s not a strong concern of mine,” said Law, who has owned his property since 1973.
He is most troubled by losing property value — two tenants have moved. He thinks it had something to do with the fact that their mobile homes lie directly above the pipelines.
“Who’s going to want to move in to a place where the pipelines and that are?” he said.
Question of safety
“Some are opposed to the pipelines, but most are used to it,” township Supervisor Kerry Jobe said. “It’s safer to move (oil and gas products) underground than it is in trucks.”
Bruce Boe, 68, agreed that underground pipes are safer for transporting natural gas.
He lives on 84 acres off Fennelstown Road. Along with more than 100 heads of cattle, Boe farms hay, corn and oats.
He said the Spectra explosion was scary.
“But how many times is that going to happen? It’s not a big concern for me,” Boe said.
The Mariner East 2 pipeline runs through a total of a half-acre on two plots of his land — and quite a way from his home.
“They’re pretty close to our neighbors’ homes. But there’s not much we can do about that,” said Boe, who declined to say how much Sunoco paid him for an easement.
A lack of zoning laws within the nearly 48-square-mile township has allowed for the development of eight fracking wells, many shallow oil wells and a “spider web of underground pipelines,” Supervisor Bob Zundel said.
“The majority of the people wanted it that way,” Jobe said, explaining that the township adopted a subdivision and land development ordinance in 2005 which provides guidelines on setbacks and land development.
But if a resident wants to build a business on their property, they can, he said.
The Pintos don’t think zoning laws would ever stop pipeline construction in the township.
“I don’t think it would make that much difference,” Joan Pinto said. “They just said if we didn’t agree and let them come through, that they’d come anyway — eminent domain. So there’s no choice. I mean, you have no choice.”
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1298 or [email protected]