A thick cloud of black smoke rising above a MarkWest natural gas processing plant off Route 519 in Houston resulted from a new piece of equipment that is not functioning at its optimal level, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Although the flames and smoke originally were believed to have been caused by a controlled flare that started about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the DEP’s John Poister said he received a report from MarkWest that the plant was starting to operate a new de-ethanizer, which separates ethane gas from natural gas.
Rob McHale, MarkWest manager of governmental and environmental affairs, could not be immediately reached for comment. Poister said MarkWest engineers are working to get the de-ethanizer to function properly.
MarkWest received permission from the DEP to install the equipment, but Poister said the agency is sending an inspector to the plant to assess the situation.
“We’re quite concerned about the heavy level of the smoke in the air, particularly on a day like today when it is so hot and the air is so thick anyway,” Poister said.
The DEP received a number of calls from concerned residents, as well as photos of the smoke.
“We want to thank all the people who sent us pictures,” Poister said. “That really helps.”