Sunoco Logistics Partners has opened a new office in Chester County in a bid to connect with residents as it struggles to acquire land rights for its latest pipeline project.
The energy company opened the office last month in Uwchlan Township to address questions from Chester and Delaware County residents reluctant to grant easements for a pipeline to cross their property.
The site is the only satellite office along the 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline route, a Sunoco spokesman said. The line starts in Ohio and is designed to deliver liquid fuels, like propane, produced from Appalachian shale wells to Sunoco's new terminal at a former refinery site in Marcus Hook.
The project, for which construction is scheduled to start this year, represents an investment of more than $2 billion, Sunoco says.
Obtaining land rights has been difficult for the company in Chester and Delaware Counties, partly because "you've got so many valuable properties so close together," said Rich Raiders, a lawyer for affected landowners.
The Philadelphia-area counties are the most densely populated area on the pipeline route, which mostly crosses open country in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.
Raiders said Sunoco's stepped-up outreach is an acknowledgment that obtaining easements there is "more complicated than land rights in open fields and farms."
The pipeline would largely follow the path of the existing Mariner East pipeline, which Sunoco Logistics put into service last year to transport natural gas liquids, which include propane, ethane, butane and natural gasoline, to Marcus Hook. The company needs to expand its existing right-of-way to accommodate the new pipeline.
Sunoco says that as a public utility, it has the right to acquire easements by eminent domain, but it would need to assert those claims in court for each landowner who resists signing an agreement. Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields declined to disclose how many landowners have refused to sign.
"To me, opening the office is just an effort to perhaps persuade people who can be persuaded," said Eric Friedman, who lives along the pipeline's path in Thornbury Township, Delaware County. "Some people won't be."
Sunoco plans to start construction in the first half of this year on sections of the pipeline where it has obtained property rights. It plans to finish by the end of 2016.
Opposition to the Mariner East project is strong in Chester County, where residents express concerns about the dangers of a buried pipeline near their homes and its impact on property values. "The people in this county do stand up and will fight for the land and for the environmental and land-preservation values that are important to the citizens," State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester) said.
He said Sunoco needs to address residents' concerns through its actions as the project continues.
Sunoco's satellite office will give landowners an opportunity to gather their thoughts and legal representation, "and go to a place and not be directly put on the spot with someone coming to their homes," said Carrie Conwell, environmental planner for the Chester County Planning Commission.
Land agents will work in the office by appointment only on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The office is in Suite 300 of the Eagleview Corporate Center.
Since the office opened two weeks ago, no landowners have visited, but they have been making appointments, Sunoco said. It would not say how many.
Residents can schedule meetings by calling 484-359-7241 or by emailing email@example.com.
Staff writer Andrew Maykuth contributed to this article.