MarkWest cited for black smoke pollution

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A Washington County gas processor has been cited for allowing repeated episodes of billowing black smoke pollution for two days in July, prompting numerous complaints from residents, including concerns that a major house fire might be underway.

The state Department of Environmental Resources cited MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources LLC for actions "inconsistent with good operating practices" that occurred July 14 and 15 at its plant along Route 519 in Chartiers Township, about three miles from Houston Borough.

DEP said the company also failed to notify it within five working days prior to starting up a new de-ethanizer at the plant. The faulty new equipment led to periodic safety actions, which produced a large flare atop the plant's flare stack with accompanying black smoke.

The de-ethanizer is designed to separate ethane from other liquid gases generated by local fracking operations.

The agency said investigators "determined that the company was not operating the new equipment in accordance with the conditions of their plan approval," which is a DEP authorization to install and test equipment. If the test goes well, the company then must apply for a permit to operate the new equipment. Its Air Quality staff will review MarkWest's control plan before determining an appropriate fine.

DEP also cited MarkWest on Dec. 10 for black smoke coming from its flare stack.

In a prepared statement, MarkWest officials said the plant recently experienced several controlled flares at its so-called Houston facility associated with bringing new equipment online.

"As designed, our automated safety control system isolated and directed natural gas liquids to the facility's flare while our operations personnel worked to make necessary adjustments," it said. "Public safety was never at risk, and the safety equipment worked as designed."

The company said it reported the events to DEP and described the smoky pollution as an opacity event -- a term to describe pollution that doesn't readily dissipate into the air.

"We will continue to work with DEP to evaluate the issue and will take all necessary steps to minimize the potential of such events," MarkWest said. "We appreciate the community's patience and understanding as this new equipment is put into operation."

environment - neigh_washington

David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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