Meet the European Petrochemical Giant Trying to Profit from the Fracking of Pennsylvania

The controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline would carry gas liquids for plastics production overseas.

Wenonah Hauter December 12, 2017

Warren has a reputation as a wheeler-dealer and visionary in the pipeline business. (Tony Webster/ Flickr)

It seems that every week brings more bad news about the con­struc­tion of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline. While Penn­syl­va­nia com­mu­ni­ties, water pro­tec­tors and landown­ers fight to stop the project, a larg­er ques­tion remains: What is this mas­sive, dan­ger­ous pipeline actu­al­ly for? The one word answer might sur­prise you: plastics.

Ineos’s pro-fracking agenda has spawned a citizen movement in Europe, where residents are fighting to prevent the company’s plans to frack the United Kingdom.

The Mariner East 2 won’t car­ry nat­ur­al gas” for heat­ing your house or oper­at­ing a stove. It will trans­port high­ly volatile liq­uids that will most­ly be shipped over­seas to be turned into plas­tics by a giant chem­i­cal cor­po­ra­tion with a ter­ri­ble envi­ron­men­tal record. 

In oth­er words, Suno­co and its par­ent com­pa­ny Ener­gy Trans­fer Part­ners are putting Penn­syl­va­nia com­mu­ni­ties at risk — from the imme­di­ate neg­a­tive impacts of frack­ing in the west­ern parts of the state, to the long-term risks to fam­i­lies liv­ing near the 350-mile pipeline — in order to sup­ply a giant cor­po­ra­tion mak­ing plas­tic pel­lets, many of which wind up lit­ter­ing shore­lines across Europe.

My orga­ni­za­tion, Food & Water Watch, has been dig­ging deep into Ineos, the mas­sive chem­i­cal con­glom­er­ate prof­it­ing from the fracked gas liq­uids out of Penn­syl­va­nia. Ineos founder and chair­man Jim Rat­cliffe amassed his petro­chem­i­cal empire in short order, thanks to risky bets and high­ly lever­aged takeovers and acqui­si­tions. The Mariner East 2 pipeline rep­re­sents one more dan­ger­ous Ineos inno­va­tion” — it deliv­ers fracked hydro­car­bons to the Mar­cus Hook facil­i­ty near Philadel­phia, where they are loaded onto the company’s drag­on ships” head­ed to facil­i­ties in Scot­land and Norway.

Turn­ing fos­sil fuels into plas­tic is a dirty busi­ness. The company’s 71 facil­i­ties across 18 coun­tries are respon­si­ble for a vast array of acci­dents, chem­i­cal leaks, fires and explo­sions, and sub­stan­tial air and cli­mate pol­lu­tion. This appalling record includes a tow­er­ing chem­i­cal fire in Ger­many, tox­ic air pol­lu­tion in Scot­land and plas­tic pel­lets lit­ter­ing the oceans.

The Mariner East 2 project is, at every step along the way, a dis­as­ter for clean air, clean water and a liv­able plan­et. But a big pic­ture assess­ment of the dam­age it will do is not part of the debate over this project, and there is lit­tle doubt that Ener­gy Trans­fer Part­ners and Ineos would like to keep it that way. If res­i­dents of Penn­syl­va­nia found out that local frack­ing was fuel­ing a resur­gence in Euro­pean petro­chem­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing, even more of them would be com­pelled to join the grow­ing oppo­si­tion to these risky, cli­mate-wreck­ing projects.

This kind of mobi­liza­tion is already hap­pen­ing else­where. Ineos’s pro-frack­ing agen­da has spawned a cit­i­zen move­ment in Europe, where res­i­dents are fight­ing to pre­vent the company’s plans to frack the Unit­ed King­dom. The com­pa­ny remains com­mit­ted to their dirty goal, going so far as to pur­sue an aston­ish­ing legal injunc­tion intend­ed to sti­fle England’s anti-frack­ing move­ment. The company’s efforts are not stop­ping cit­i­zens from speak­ing up, and some Euro­pean polit­i­cal lead­ers are call­ing for a ban on frack­ing, which is obvi­ous­ly bad news for Ineos.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Pennsylvania’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Gov­er­nor Tom Wolf has not shown the same courage. Even though Sunoco’s pipeline drilling has been a series of dis­as­ters — from drilling flu­id spills to punc­tured aquifers — Wolf has not tak­en action to pro­tect Penn­syl­va­ni­ans. In one of his few pub­lic com­ments about the project, Gov­er­nor Wolf declared that pipelines like this are nec­es­sary to live the life we want.”

For most of us, the life we want” does not mean build­ing a pipeline full of explo­sive liq­uids near schools and homes. It does not include deliv­er­ing air and water pol­lu­tion to our neigh­bors in west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia. And it cer­tain­ly does not include more petro­chem­i­cal pol­lu­tion and plas­tic trash lit­ter­ing our oceans.

Thanks to grass­roots oppo­si­tion, direct action and legal chal­lenges, the Mariner East 2 pipeline is already way behind sched­ule. But once you con­sid­er the dam­age it will inflict if it is ever func­tion­al, delays aren’t enough. It must be stopped.

Wenon­ah Hauter is the founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action Fund. Wenon­ah has three decades of expe­ri­ence cam­paign­ing and writ­ing on food, water, ener­gy and envi­ron­men­tal issues. She has trained and men­tored hun­dreds of orga­niz­ers and activists across the coun­try and worked at the nation­al, state and local lev­els to devel­op pol­i­cy posi­tions and leg­isla­tive and field strate­gies to secure real wins for com­mu­ni­ties and the environment.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH