County Commissioner Joe Giusti thinks a natural gas treatment plant that sprang up recently in a neighborhood just south of Santa Fe is safe, but he wouldn’t want to live near it, he said.
The latter assessment is one shared by some people living in the quiet, rural neighborhoods closely abutting the plant site from every direction.
Although the plant was fully permitted, few people knew what was going up on the 11 acres and some neighbors were surprised and dismayed when the plant’s industrial profile rose above what had been a pasture.
Giusti, who represents Precinct 2, which includes that unincorporated part of the county, toured the plant Tuesday in response to constituent complaints and concerns.
Kinder Morgan’s spokesperson told him the plant was very safe and that the company has never had any kind of incident in one of its treatment plants similar to this one, Giusti said.
The facility is a cleaning station for natural gas being piped through from areas west to Texas City, according to Kinder Morgan.
“There are two towers, one with amine and one with glycol,” Giusti said.
The amine attracts and traps any carbon dioxide in the gas, pulls it out and burns it off, releasing it into the air, Giusti said.
The glycol, a dehydrating agent, removes any water vapor that the gas might have collected from the pipeline, Giusti said.
Neighbor Sharon Tipton, who lives less than a quarter mile up the road, said that although that sounds good, it doesn’t offer her much comfort.
“A little research tells me I have learned nothing,” Tipton said. “Both amines and glycol come in different types, some more dangerous than others, and without knowing which amine and which glycol, I can’t evaluate the danger level.”
Giusti visited the plant along with a county road administrator, County Engineer Michael Shannon and the Santa Fe fire marshal. Local first responders, most of them volunteer firefighters, will be on call for any incidents that should occur at the plant, officials said.
The plant will largely be monitored remotely and if anything goes wrong, someone has been hired who lives nearby and will be able to get to the plant quickly to turn off any valves that need shutting off, Giusti said.
The system can also automatically shut down if instruments indicate any kind of irregularity that could result in a dangerous situation, the Kinder Morgan representative told Giusti.
“Do I think it’s safe? Yes,” Giusti said.
“Would I want it in my back yard where my grandkids are playing? No. Just because of the nature of what’s running through there.”
Giusti was referring to a natural gas pipeline that feeds the plant, then sends cleaned gas to petrochemical plants in Texas City. That part of the county is criss-crossed underground by pipelines of all sorts, some of them abandoned and some of them active, Giusti said.
Kinder Morgan is one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America.