Problems with new equipment at the MarkWest Energy Partners' Houston Gas Plant in Washington County led to smokestack flaring and plumes of black smoke Sunday and Monday, drawing such public concern that the state Department of Environmental Protection dispatched an inspector.
De-ethanizing equipment installed to separate ethane from other liquid gas products at the plant along Route 519 in Chartiers caused heavy black smoke in addition to the planned flaring from the smokestack.
Regional DEP spokesman John Poister said the malfunctioning de-ethanizer.
MarkWest, he said, already had received DEP permission to do flaring to burn off liquid gas products during equipment installation and testing.
But he said the flames and black smoke rising high into the air looked as though a house were burning.
"One thing that really helped was that a number of residents sent pictures that showed more than a small problem there, and that made the difference when we made the decision to send an inspector there," Mr. Poister said. "There was smoke where it was not supposed to be."
No violations were apparent, he said, but the DEP will analyze air-monitoring data and also work with MarkWest to prevent such a problem from recurring.
MarkWest spokesman Robert E. McHale said the smoke wasn't aesthetically pleasing and the company lost some of its product, but the system worked as designed from a safety perspective by sending the liquid gas up the smokestack to be burned off.
"It was, basically, a hiccup," Mr. McHale said. "That's the best way to think of it, as a hiccup."
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578.