ShareThis Page

Neville Island coke plant lost all power in lead-up to fire, manager says

| Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, 10:27 p.m.

Both sources feeding power to the Shenango Inc. coke plant on Neville Island failed during thunderstorms and high winds in late May, stranding a cart that loads coal above an open oven.

Superheated coke gas escaped, setting the cart ablaze, Mike Zowacki, the plant manager, said Wednesday.

“A lot of things went wrong that evening with the power,” Zowacki said.

Zowacki and officials from DTE Energy, the Michigan-based company that bought Shenango in 2008, provided details about the power outage at a time when the company is trying to spread the word about upgrades and projects at the Neville Island plant.

The operator of the cart, called a Larry car, escaped without injury as it burst into flames. Fire destroyed the cart. It took three months and $2.2 million to rebuild it.

“It's devastating when you lose complete power in your plant,” Ronald Burnette, DTE's director of steel operations, told Tribune-Review reporters.

Duquesne Light, which provides power to the plant, repaired equipment believed to be at fault after the May outage, but problems continued. Shenango lost power four more times in June, July and August.

Duquesne Light did not return calls for comment.

“The bottom line is that infrastructure has to be upgraded,” Burnette said, adding Duquesne Light is working with Shenango.

The Allegheny County Health Department and Allegheny County Clean Air Now, a group with many members living across the river from Neville Island, keep a close eye on Shenango. Clean Air Now is quick to criticize the plant.

The Health Department has fined Shenango and demanded it cut emissions and make improvements through a court order.

Zowacki and other DTE officials hope to speak at Clean Air Now's annual meeting Thursday in Ben Avon.

“Why aren't things better? Because there are some pretty stinky days here,” said Thaddeus Popovich, co-founder of Clean Air Now and a Ben Avon resident. “We think the company, DTE Energy, is just looking to run it into the ground and then leave.”

Burnette said that is far from true. DTE has invested “tens of millions of dollars” in Shenango and plans to invest more. He said the plant stresses safety, for employees and the environment.

Jayme Graham, the Health Department's Air Quality Program manager, said Shenango has complied with county regulations and met expectations in some areas, but lags in others.

She expressed concern about the condition of the plant's combustion stack.

Zowacki said the stack and other parts of the plant undergo routine maintenance to repair damage caused in the normal course of making coke.

The Health Department is still investigating the power outages, Graham said. It has hired a consultant to review Shenango's emergency procedures to ensure the plant did what it could to prevent coke gas and other pollution from escaping.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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.