Sunoco Logistics dealt setback in effort to win zoning exemptions for Pennsylvania pipeline

Sunoco Logistics has gotten a setback to its plans to pump propane and ethane in its 300-mile Mariner East pipeline across southern Pennsylvania.

Two administrative law judges on Wednesday released a 25-page decision recommending that state utility regulators deny the company's request to exempt buildings to shelter 18 pump stations and 17 valve control stations from local zoning ordinances in 31 locations.

The judges said the buildings cannot be exempt because Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East pipeline service does not constitute public utility service. The propane service is to begin later this year, while the ethane service is to begin next year.

The parties can submit new arguments by Aug. 19 and replies by Aug. 29. Then the final decision is in the hands of the five-member Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

In a statement, Sunoco Logistics said the recommendation is inconsistent with previous orders by the utility commission.

"The commission still must rule on this and we believe the commission has and will continue to recognize that the proposed Mariner East service will result in numerous public benefits," the company said.

Objections had been filed by the Clean Air Council, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Concerned Citizens of West Goshen Township and the Mountain Watershed Association.

The pipeline is to originate in the southwestern Pennsylvania town of Houston amid the area's Marcellus Shale drilling fields and end at the company's distribution facilities in southeastern Pennsylvania's Delaware County. The ethane and propane would be piped together and separated at the facilities before being distributed to domestic, regional and international markets.

Much of the 300-mile pipeline had already existed, previously pumping diesel west to Pittsburgh. About 50 new miles are being added in southwestern Pennsylvania to convert the pipeline and carry natural gas liquids from the booming Marcellus Shale fields to revamped Sunoco Logistics facilities.