DEP looks into gas plant burn-off
State air quality regulators are investigating complaints about a Washington County gas plant, including plumes of black smoke it spewed this week that locals said they could see from miles away.
New equipment at the MarkWest Energy Partners LP's Houston plant malfunctioned during its startup on Sunday and Monday, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. That triggered a burn-off of the liquid gases that go through the plant, according to MarkWest. The DEP does not know what exactly was in the smoke, regional spokesman John Poister said.
Inspectors visited the plant Monday and Tuesday to take air quality readings, Poister said. They will meet on Wednesday to analyze the results and discuss how to resolve repeated complaints about the plant, he added. A company official said there was never a public safety risk.
“The safety equipment worked as designed, and we will continue to work with DEP to evaluate the issue and take the necessary steps to minimize the potential of similar events,” MarkWest spokesman Robert McHale said in an emailed statement. “We appreciate the community's patience and understanding as this new equipment is put into operation.”
DEP officials have visited several times to respond to complaints about flares and smoke at the plant, Poister said. The state's inspection database shows only one complaint inspection, Dec. 10. It led to one violation for improper operation but no fine, according to the DEP database. Three other reviews since November 2011 led to no violations, though one administrative review from October is still pending.
It's been difficult to take action against the company because the complaints have been made after the events, too late for regulators to assess what's in the burn-off, Poister said. DEP is not likely to assess the company any violations from this week's problems, either, mainly because investigators couldn't see smoke by the time they arrived, he said.
“While we do have pictures, they essentially provide just a snapshot. We don't have a lot of things we would need to make a more conclusive judgment,” Poister said. “I don't know that citing them is the way to fix the problem. The way to fix the problem is to sit down with them and come up with a solution. That's our goal here.”
That's a poor strategy, said Matt Walker, an outreach director at the Clean Air Council, which has been fighting the DEP over the way it regulates MarkWest in Washington County. It has to fine MarkWest enough so that its officials know there are consequences to polluting, Walker said in an email.
“Fines that match the specific violation are one of the best tools that DEP has to enforce air quality regulations,” he said. “This incident and DEP's response are part of the larger pattern of how DEP lets gas companies get away with polluting the air we breathe with little to no repercussion.”
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Federal appeals court deals blow to Affordable Care Act
- Latrobe’s Ci Medical Technologies transforms to medical device business
- Allegheny Technologies reports 2Q loss despite higher sales
- Gas pipeline issues challenge for producers, users
- 5 tips for exchanging currency and saving
- U.S. stocks slip to start the week; Six Flags sinks
- Congress may crimp offshore merger tax relief
- Activist investor Peltz targets BNY Mellon
- Grads’ starting salaries way behind average
- Workers strive for independence in ‘flex economy’
- U.S. companies report rising sales, employment in 2Q