Hearing on Laurel pipeline reversal draws opposing views

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania drivers, heating oil dealers, refinery workers and pipeline laborers weighed in Tuesday on a proposal to partially reverse the flow of a cross-state gasoline and diesel pipeline that brings petroleum products from the East Coast to southwestern Pennsylvania.

Laurel Pipe Line Co. is planning to reverse flow on the line near Altoona, 100 miles east of Pittsburgh, so Midwestern refiners seeking an expanded market can ship more fuel to the middle of the state.

The move would end Western Pennsylvania’s pipeline access to Philadelphia-area refiners and make central Pennsylvania, instead, the delivery point for pipeline flows from both directions.

An administrative law judge for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission heard competing testimony from mid-state fuel consumers and dealers, who want the competitive benefits of a second supply source, and Western Pennsylvania consumers, who said they fear they will be shut out of access to eastern gasoline supplies during months of the year when it has historically been cheaper.

A resident from Peters Township said the pipeline reversal will lower Pittsburgh fuel prices so they are more in line with those on the eastern side of the state.

Pipeline laborers spoke in support of the project, which promises jobs through an estimated $200 million in equipment upgrades, while Philadelphia-area refinery workers and business groups urged the commission to oppose the project because any harm to the already challenged refineries along the Delaware River could lead to layoffs.

A central debate focuses on the proposal’s effect on fuel prices.

David MacGregor, an attorney for Laurel, said the reversal will lower gasoline prices throughout the commonwealth. “We’re bringing in cheaper supply from the Midwest,” he said. “Cheaper supply equals lower prices.”

Adeolu Bakare, an attorney for Gulf Operating and Altoona-based Sheetz, countered that Laurel’s proposal “would destroy competition that keeps gas prices in check for the large Western Pennsylvania market.”

The afternoon and evening public hearings on Tuesday were an early step in a process that is expected to continue until at least the fall, when evidentiary hearings are scheduled.

After Administrative Law Judge Eranda Vero issues a recommendation, the five-member commission will decide whether to approve the project.

Laura Legere: llegere@post-gazette.com

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