Gas cut off to plant as investigation continues

NATRIUM – State regulators continue working with Blue Racer Midstream officials to determine why part of the $500 million Natrium natural gas processing plant blew up and burned on Sept. 21.

“The supply of gas to the plant has been shut off, so it remains out of service,” said Frank Mack, a spokesman for Dominion Resources.

Blue Racer is a $1.5 billion partnership between Dominion and Caiman Energy, while Dominion workers operate the Natrium plant.

“We continue working with local safety officials and state regulators to determine cause of the problem,” Mack added.

At Natrium, once the wet Marcellus and Utica shale gas travels to the plant, the ethane, butane, propane and other natural gas liquids are separated from the dry methane gas so all the products can be marketed individually. Mack said he was not yet sure which form of NGL caused the problem that led to the blast.

Long before the September blast, officials with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection expressed concerns over flaring at the the Natrium plant. Department spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said the flaring is used to burn off volatile gases to help avoid possible explosions.

“The Division of Air Quality issued them a permit for the flaring. They do not need any permits from the Office of Oil and Gas,” Cosco said.

The Office of Oil and Gas is the agency responsible for issuing well drilling permits throughout the Mountain State, but the office maintains no oversight on facilities such as Natrium.

“The company is working to remove any remaining NGL from its equipment,” Cosco said, noting her department sent an inspector to the Natrium site even though it has no official authority over the process beyond issuing the flaring permit.

Marshall County Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said most drillers and processors notify his agency when they plan to flare. Hart said he has more than enough traffic to keep him busy.

“Most of the companies are very cooperative,” he said, noting there have been no specific problems with Dominion or Blue Racer prior to the Sept. 21 blast.