A 50-mile pipeline to cross from Washington to Westmoreland

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Folks who live in parts of Washington and Westmoreland counties can expect to see a "big ditch" being dug across the region starting in midsummer.

Sunoco Oil Co. plans to construct an underground pipeline about 50 miles long, starting in Houston, Washington County, and stretching to Delmont, Westmoreland County. It will carry liquid products derived from natural gas, such as propane and ethane.

When they reach Delmont, the "hydrocarbon derivatives" from the natural gas will be shipped through an existing pipeline that stretches all the way across the state to the southeastern Pennsylvania town of Marcus Hook, on the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Marcus Hook is a large port and industrial complex along the Delaware River that once was the site of an oil refinery, said Joseph McGinn, a spokesman for Sunoco, which is headquartered in Philadelphia.

The natural gas products to be shipped under high pressure through the new Houston-to-Delmont pipeline will come from the massive area of Marcellus Shale that is deep underground.

Sunoco said the pipeline is one part of a $600 million project called Mariner East. Mr. McGinn said Sunoco is "in the site survey process to determine the route of the pipeline."

The pipeline will be run just south and east of the Pittsburgh border, but the exact route and the exact properties involved haven't been disclosed yet. The precise route probably won't be known for at least two more weeks.

Construction "will follow existing utility rights-of-way wherever possible, to minimize impacts to communities," Sunoco said in a statement.

Houston Mayor James Stubenbordt said he hasn't been told which properties in his area will be affected. "Nobody has met with us to discuss this," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. He said a council meeting is scheduled for next week, but he doesn't know whether Sunoco will be present.

Delmont zoning enforcement officer William Heaps also said, "We haven't been told anything by anybody." He said a couple friends have told him their land in Penn Township, Westmoreland County, may be involved but he does not know anything specific.

"Outreach meetings" with officials and residents along the 50-mile route will be held at some point, according to Sunoco.

Mr. McGinn said the new pipeline will be 12 inches in diameter and is expected to be operational in the second half of 2014. The pipeline will be able to carry 70,000 barrels of liquid natural gas per day.

One prevalent use of liquid propane is for gas grills, which many homeowners use for outdoor cooking in the summer, Mr. McGinn said.

Propane, as well as ethane, is used as a "feed stock" for chemical plants, he said. Ethane is turned into ethylene, which is used in manufacturing plastic products.

The majority of the ethane will be shipped overseas from Marcus Hook, while much of the propane will be used along the East Coast.

Construction of the pipeline will be done under standards set by two agencies in Washington, D.C. -- the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the Department of Transportation.

The latter will have "oversight and audit authority over construction and operations," Sunoco said in a statement.

The Mariner East project will encompass more than just the new pipeline, including improvements to the existing docks at Marcus Hook and construction of storage tanks for the natural gas. Overall, Mariner East will cost $600 million and employ 450 construction workers.

"The economic impact of a project of this size will be significant," benefitting the temporary construction workers and businesses in their communities, Sunoco said.

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Tom Barnes: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com or 717-623-1238.


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