Some nearby residents were dismayed recently when a natural gas processing plant went into operation near their homes in an unincorporated area just south of Santa Fe.

Neighbors said they had no idea what the new industrial facility in their semi-rural part of the county was, who owned it or what it’s designed to do.

The plant is fully permitted, however, and its quiet rise underscores how little control Texas counties have over what gets built in unincorporated areas, local officials said.

All the same, the company could have done a better job communicating with the plant’s neighbors, residents and a county commissioner said.

Sharon Tipton, who lives about a quarter-mile down the road, said she had no idea the plant was operational until she saw a giant plume of flame released from one of its smokestacks on Tuesday.

Few people knew what was going up on those 11 acres except the landowners and Kinder Morgan’s subsidiary, Kinder Morgan Treating L.P., which owns and operates the plant; and construction workers on the site. Houston-based Kinder Morgan is among the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America and specializes in owning and controlling oil and gas pipelines and terminals, according to the company.

Sharon Tipton reached out to county officials for information on the project, but was told by County Judge Mark Henry and his chief of staff, Tyler Drummond, that Galveston County has no zoning or land use authority over such a construction in an unincorporated residential area.

“I was shocked that counties in Texas have no say about what is constructed in unincorporated areas,” Tipton said.

Her small tan house sits back from the road in this quiet part of the county where most neighbors have a few acres of land, many keep livestock, some grow crops and most value the quiet nature of where they live. Tipton keeps two horses out back on her property.

Drummond told Tipton that the only requirement to build any kind of business in an unincorporated part of the county was to file a permit to meet floodplain requirements, which Kinder Morgan did on Nov. 27.

Companies build in unincorporated areas precisely for that reason, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Joe Giusti said.

“They don’t need any kind of county permit,” he said.

Giusti’s office became aware of the project only when Kinder Morgan had to seek a permit to run heavy equipment up and down Avenue T, guaranteeing a bond in case the narrow, two-lane road was damaged, he said.

Neighbors in nearby Santa Fe were concerned about large trucks and heavy construction equipment traveling along Avenue T, south of state Highway 6, in an area designated as a school zone, Tipton said

Giusti’s office has been getting lots of calls about it, he said.

“We’ll be getting a lot more calls when the gas starts burning off on those smokestacks,” Giusti said.

Kinder Morgan should have done a better job notifying neighbors living directly around the plant, Giusti said. He will be touring the plant next week with some county road workers and engineers and representatives of Kinder Morgan Treating, to get answers to his questions about the project, he said.

Neighbors, meanwhile, still have questions they’d like answered.

Tipton wanted to know whether the plant would have staff on site. Kinder Morgan replied: “The facility is monitored 24/7, either by personnel onsite during the day or remotely at night.”

Tipton also is concerned about safety, given the potential volatility of natural gas pipelines and facilities, and the number of incidents she’s heard about in other places where explosions have occurred, she said.

According to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation that inspects and regulates the nation’s pipelines, 1,669 significant incidents occurred in Texas from 1986 to 2012 accounting for 78 fatalities, 371 injuries and about $668 million in property damage.

In general, improper monitoring and maintenance of pipelines is the primary cause of such incidents, according to safety reports filed with the safety administration and the Texas Railroad Commission.

In the rare event of an incident, “it is the responsibility of the emergency responders to consider possible evacuations based on the information provided by Kinder Morgan and the actual site conditions,” said Katherine Hill, senior communications specialist at Kinder Morgan.

In the case of the plant on Avenue T, emergency responders would include the Santa Fe police, the volunteer fire department and the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.

The plant plugs into existing pipelines that have criss-crossed the area for many years, Giusti said.

The company could at least have posted a sign to let people know what was being built, the name of the owner or the name of the facility, Tipton said.

As of Monday, no sign was visible anywhere in the vicinity of the plant or the road adjacent to it.

“We are planning to install a sign in front of the facility this week,” Hill said.

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257;


(30) comments

Bailey Jones

And you can bet that if counties do try to exercise local control they will be overruled by Abbott & co, as we have seen so many times in the past few years.

Carlos Ponce

Sounds like NIMBY.

Rusty Schroeder

Not really, this Amine facility could have been built off 2004 where there is no population to disturb. It's the same pipeline just father out of town, I know, I used to have the DOW contract for mowing and maintenance on all of these pipelines. Now you want to truly talk of NIMBY, the stored energy power plant that was proposed for the corner of 1764 and 646 across from the HL&P sub station. That was NIMBY, the plant was proposed to be built underneath the main power lines off of 646 behind the Shell station. But citizens came up with crazy, unfounded claims and the City Council folded like a cheap suit at Goodwill. That would have added to the tax base and would have been built on land that has restrictions because of the power lines. All the people against it, very small percentage, wanted it built on the south side of town. I was surprised this paper didn't cover any of the conversation or interviewed any of the key players, but it was not even mentioned. It set a bad precedent for future companies wanting to invest in Santa Fe, certainly opened my eyes.

Carlos Ponce

"....could have been built off 2004 where there is no population to disturb."
The advantage of building in unincorporated areas is not paying any city taxes. True the area off 2004 is not as populated as Avenue T but my understanding is the City of Hitchcock strip annexed along 2004 to the Brazoria County line.

Rusty Schroeder

They did, with the Hitchcock Development Corporation that's run by old city leaders. Why Hitchcock is having a very hotly contested Mayor's race and that city is split instead of united. I think it's a joke, Hitchcock can't provide city water and sewer to the county line, they can't even fix the mess in their inner town. If Monica Cantrell wins the mayor's race and opens the books, finds where the money is being spent, you will see some change in Hitchcock. The building in unincorporated areas is why I am ay odds with the decision to block the building of the stored energy plant within the city limits. Finally something with a solid tax base wanted to build in Santa Fe, then NIMBY came into play and the Mayor and Council got scared. Will not surprise me when that same company and plant build on 1764 next to the new Texas New Mexico sub station ,,, in La Marque city limits. Maybe Santa Fe can score another donut shop or dollar store in the mean time.

David Smith

Someone at Kinder Morgan sold youa batch of wolf cookies..This unit is an Amine scrubbing unit.The plant is scrubbing (removing) deadly H2s gas out of the Amine.. turning rich amine into lean amine for the refinerys.. H2s will kill you dead in very low ppm... thats why theyve been on the hush hush..Kinder Morgan doesnt want you to know how dangerous it is
Evertime it rains.. or foggy.. they cover AveT with mud.. and the residents that live out here have to deal with it.. Theres not even a road to the site.. they have been driving on wooden mats.. County commisshiners are no where to be seen ... They knew all along this was coming.Downed trees are still lining T where they cut them down to install power to the site. Placing a sign at the site after its built does no one any good.. Theres no emergency number to call..
Is the Santa Fe Fire Dept trained to deal with a H2S release?
This site isnt even manned at nignt

George Croix

Dealing with an H2S release involves someone wearing an SCBA closing off the source of the leak. All Fire Depts have and train with SCBAs these days.
It doesn't hurt to put a water fog on as much of the leak as possible, and remove people downwind as a precaution.
The IDLH for H2S has been lowered to 100ppm but the effects at that low amount are usually respiratory irritation and nausea.
A good clue is if a normal person can SMELL the rotten egg odor, you are NOT in an IDLH concentration....your sense of smell is killed by high concentrations of H2S, so NOT smelling it is the tip off.
Getting up in the 500 to 1000ppm range is where one will be rapidly and greatly effected and many if not most will pass out. At 2000 you WILL be unconscious and in great danger of dying if not removed quickly to clean air. At very high concentrations, you will die real quick.
Having been in concentrations exceeding 40,000 ppm H2S several times, I can personally attest that, IMO, the person(s) attempting to close off the leak need to be experienced with and comfortable in SCBA, and not prone to panic.

If the problem causing that person to go down that fast is still there YOU will join them and just be another casualty....trying to hold one's breath in an H2S leak area while dragging a person is a good way to meet your Maker, too....
H2S is HIGHLY wind sensitive, and one can stand right next to a very bad leak and be safe as long as you are upwind, but the SCBA is needed anyway as protection against a sudden wind shift or swirl, and Murphy.

There SHOULD be a posted sign with emergency contact info......raise hel_ until one is posted.....

George Croix

ps: General observation NOT specifically related to this:
Simple fact is that TOTAL local control ends up with nothing ever done, because nobody wants it by them.
And eventually, everything is right by somebody.

David Smith

Theyve removed the trees.. Imagine that.. been there 2 months

David Smith

There is no water at this site.. so you wont knock it down (dilute) with water.. The facility is about 200 yards off the road.. bring plenty of hose..
Glad to see our officials coming out next week ... to take a look.. after its already on line.. thats a lot of help

George Croix

The water is just to dilute and if the leak is really small is not necessary....I should have mentioned you can't SEE the stuff anyway, so it's just an effort to knock some down if there's a large amount.
Most all Municipal and Volunteer FD's carry water on board, usually 500 gals or so. The Industrials rarely do because they usually have extensive firewater systems.
200 yards isn't much hose at all, so it's likely that there would still be plenty on the responding apparatus to reach a fire hydrant, or relay pump, if necessary....
NOT minimizing your concerns, just passing along a little hard learned info.....
ESPECIALLY that do not try to be a rescuer's good advice.......

Gary Scoggin

Is this plant amine scrubbing for H2S removal, or as is much more common in these type of operations, scrubbing for CO2 removal?

George Croix

Now there's an interesting question.
If it's actually a rich amine scrubbing operation returning lean amine to the refineries (???) then it's likely stripping both.....ours had it's own multiple scrubbing systems.....although we did export some certain high H2S off gases as you know....

Gary Scoggin

I doubt that Kinder Morgan would be sending H2S rich amine across the County for processing. So unless this facility has its own Claus unit, Tail Gas unit, and sulfur loading facility, which doesn’t appear to be the case, it’s likely an amine CO2 removal unit. These are very commonly used to remove naturally occurring CO2 from produced natural gas. The removed CO2 is usually vented to atmosphere. This is a much lower risk facility than a sulfur removal unit.

George Croix

Would be odd, but odd is the 'new normal'.....[beam]

Gary, refresh my failing memory...who ran the CO2 facility out in the back off Ave. G by old Hydrogen 1 (old Ammonia 1)??

IF there's H2S at this article's site, then there SHOULD have been/be warning signs all over the place.
Well, better safe than sorry.......

Rusty Schroeder

Good questions to be asked next week during the tour with Kinder Morgan representatives.

Gary Scoggin

George, that was Praxair, I believe. They took CO2 from the Hydrogen Plant and sold it.

In this case, given the proximity to neighbors, if this facility has large quantities of H2S, I doubt the air permit would have passed the disaster review which is now part of the TCEQ permitting process. All these questions would be answered if someone would look the permit up on the internet. (i’m too lazy, maybe we can get Carlos or Forsythe to do it, They are good at that sort of thing.)

George Croix

Yeah.. Hopefully it's less problematic than thought for the folks nearby....

Thanks, Gary.
I had a good reason for not remembering Praxair since I only worked about 300 yards from it for over 4 years..... [rolleyes][beam]!!

Jim Forsythe

I may be the only one that finds the following interesting. In the link below they talk about "The Trouble With New Rules For Natural Gas Processors" and the "PHMSA Letters Interpreting Part 195"!/

Jim Forsythe

I may be the only one that finds the following interesting. In the link below they talk about "The Trouble With New Rules For Natural Gas Processors" and the "PHMSA Letters Interpreting Part 195"!/

Jim Forsythe

I may be the only one that finds the following interesting. In the link below they talk about
"The Trouble With New Rules For Natural Gas Processors" and the "PHMSA Letters Interpreting Part 195"

Gary Scoggin

Actually, Jim, I find thos articles very in, although I don’t think they relate to this case. What you had there was PHMSA taking a page from EPA and trying to expand their jurisdiction by stretching their definitions and grabbing through enforcement that which they could never get through rulemaking or legislation.

Gary Scoggin

“Those articles very interesting “ poor typing and worse proofreading on my part.

Jose' Boix

Before we go too far, suggest checking this URL

George Croix

What am I missing, Jose'.
That link just confirms what we already know....I think.
An amine absorption system removes CO2 and H2S from sour gas streams.

Best bet is for those involved to ask the folks running the place what's going on...and I bet they will.
1) Is it an actual initial gas scrubbing system pre-treating gas on it's way somewhere?
or a rich amine regeneration system, cleaning that up and returning it somewhere?
A little odd not to have the entire operation in one place, and it may well be both (or, neither...)
2) What is the immediate and primary hazard(s) of a leak to people in the area?
3) In the event of emergency, who/what is to be contacted?
4) Are local responding FD's aware of and prepared for any particular hazards to a response by them?
The simple and routine stuff......

Jose' Boix

Below are some facts received from KM regarding the referenced facility:

1. This facility is the Chocolate Bayou Plant that is owned and operated by Kinder Morgan Treating, L.P., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, Inc.

2. The plant was placed in service this month and is designed to treat natural gas by removing water vapor and CO2.

3. The gas being delivered into the plant meets pipeline quality specifications and has less than two parts per million H2S. This is a very small amount of H2S and is not hazardous to the public.

4. The purpose of the plant is to further reduce CO2 in the gas stream, which will allow for more efficient recoveries downstream at the Texas City plant where Natural Gas Liquids (NGL’s) are removed through a refrigeration process.

5. The plant also has a flare to fully combust any trace hydrocarbons including the very small amount of H2S. The flare is in full compliance with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulations.

George Croix

Thanks, Jose.'
You'd expect to get 2ppm H2S on a visit to Gringo's.....[wink]
As long as all that info is correct (as I'm sure the locals will seek to find out at their meeting), then it's 'much ado' as far as that H2S hazard goes......the biggest hazard would be flammable nat. most of us have in our kitchens or for the water heater..........just more of it......

Well, it never hurts to revisit and refresh.....[smile]

Jose' Boix

You are correct George. To add that natural gas - the same we have in our homes - is odorless, so it is odorized with sulphur (or sulfur) compounds (rotten eggs smell) so it can be detected by smell for our safety.

Robert Braeking

I'm not sure that the Petro-Chemical Panic Police can be pacified with facts, Jose. That will only confuse them.

George Croix

Mercaptan...just a single drop goes a very long way.........Been added to nat gas to give it smell since shortly after the New London School explosion, what, about 80 years ago.....killed hundreds of children and teachers....another sad lesson hard learned......
One of the few times the Texas Legislature has acted quickly on anything

Better people ask and find out than just be complacent or be alarmed for a wrong reason....

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