DEP issues violation for MarkWest plant smoke plume

July 31, 2013
Smoke and flames from a MarkWest natural gas processing plant off Route 519 in Houston on July 14 and 15 were visible from miles. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

State environmental regulators are investigating whether the MarkWest plant near Houston continues to malfunction two weeks after it belched plumes of black smoke into the air.

A resident living near the Marcellus Shale natural gas processing plant called the state Department Environmental of Protection late Tuesday night to report smoke coming from flaring at the facility.

The new report comes two weeks after the company spent two days trying to put into commission a new de-ethanizer that apparently was not operating correctly and causing the smoke. The DEP said it also received reports of black smoke coming from the processing plant’s same flare stack Dec. 10.

MarkWest spokesman Robert McHale denied the plant was malfunctioning Tuesday night. DEP spokesman John Poister said the company notified the agency about the “planned event” and officials are trying to determine what happened.

Meanwhile, he state DEP continues to investigate the previous incidents and issued a notice of violation to the company on Monday for the problems with the de-ethanizer on July 14 and 15, and failing to notify them of the new de-ethanizer. The department’s air quality staff is now reviewing MarkWest’s control plan, which it must submit within 15 days, and will determine if the company should be fined for the malfunctions.

“The enforcement action is always the last thing we consider,” Poister said. “We’ll want to see if their control plan works and if there are any further incidents.”

Poister said DEP also issued a notice of violation MarkWest for the smoke coming from the plant last December.

McHale said the events were planned while bringing the new equipment online and it triggered automated safety systems. He asked for the public’s patience as MarkWest continues to work with the new equipment at the plant.

“Public safety was never at risk and the safety equipment worked as designed,” McHale said. “We reported these events to DEP and have received a notice of violation related to the opacity events, as well as for not providing proper startup notice for the new equipment. We will continue to work with DEP to evaluate the issue and will take all necessary steps to minimize the potential of such events.”

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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