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Ponder residents learn of upgrades

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

PONDER - Residents learned during a town hall-style meeting Thursday night that the operators of a gas plant have made repairs and installed new equipment - done so in response to more than a year's worth of complaints about odors emanating from the facility.

Representatives from Kinder Morgan and Atmos Energy, whose pipeline is served by the plant, opened with an apology to the community. More than 50 people who live along Robinson Road attended the meeting organized by Mayor Scott McCarty and hosted by the Denton County Cowboy Church. State and local officials also attended to answer some of the residents' questions about problems at the plant.

Residents have complained about noises and foul smells emanating from the facility since October 2010. In recent months, residents began calling the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in addition to the company, to complain. Two of eight air samples taken by state inspectors have recorded benzene levels higher than the state's limit for long-term exposure.

Steve Jewell, head of the operations group at Kinder Morgan, told the crowd that when the company began operating the plant in October 2010, the equipment contained a small leak by design. After people called to complain, they changed that equipment, Jewell said.

But other equipment, including a gas flare, a dehydrator and tanks, could still create odors. When complaints continued, the company decided to add a vapor-recovery unit that would collect all the emissions from that equipment and burn it in a thermal oxidizer, Jewell said.

The equipment was installed Oct. 22, he said.

TCEQ employee Alyssa Taylor, who supervises the team that investigates air quality complaints in the Barnett Shale region, told residents that inspectors are continuing to monitor the site for compliance with its air permit.

Air samples collected by inspectors have detected from 29 to 57 different air toxics in the vicinity of the plant, but none at levels that trigger a violation of the air permit. COMPLAINT HISTORY

Below is a timeline of complaints that Ponder residents have made to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about Kinder Morgan's natural gas sweetening plant on Robinson Road. The operator applied for an air permit with the TCEQ under permit-by-rule, which was approved Dec. 2.June 2: Resident complains of roaring and hissing sounds, as well as an overpowering smell of rotten eggs. The smell is more potent inside the house.Sept. 12: Resident makes odor complaint.Sept. 15 and 19: Resident complains of strong odor. Two separate complaints of strong odors. One complains of health effects.Sept. 21: Resident complains that strong odors have affected health.Sept. 27: Resident complains of foul, skunk-like smell, occurring mostly at night and when the wind blows in the resident's direction. Resident says it is causing headaches.Sept. 28: Resident complains of chemical smells emanating from plant.Oct. 3: Resident complains of gas smells near FM2449 and FM156Oct. 26: Resident complains of strong, unpleasant odor from the plant. SOURCE: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

However, she reminded the residents, the plant cannot operate in a way that is a nuisance to the neighborhood. She encouraged residents to continue to call the agency when they smell odors, and document those odors and any health effects with odor logs and affidavits and submit them to the agency.

"We want to acknowledge and confirm those odors," Taylor said, adding that the additional documents from the community can build a case for a nuisance violation.

Former Dish Mayor Calvin Tillman encouraged residents not to allow the plant's operations to be an imposition in their life and not be afraid to speak out.

"You don't want to have to be like me and have to move because you are concerned about your children's health," Tillman said.

Many residents told the visitors on the panel that they were already feeling health effects, such as headaches and extreme fatigue. Others said they were worried that the possibilities of long-term illness were being dismissed too readily. Some said the publicity about the plant meant they would probably never be able to sell their homes and leave. Several told the industry representatives that their asthma used to be under control until the plant began operating and that their doctors were concerned.

Council member Karen Finley asked whether the two companies were still planning on installing a continuous air monitor at the plant.

"Those discussions are happening," said Jeff Martinez, of Atmos Energy.

Resident Judy Smith said it was too much to worry about, especially since her 2-year-old daughter has a heart condition.

"We could smell the country when we moved here eight years ago - not anymore," Smith said. "Now I have to wait for toxics to show up in my daughter's blood - that's not right."

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is .