24 Oct 2017
By Jason Browne
All the familiar concerns—water pollution, air contamination, property values, potential disasters and hidden agendas—were aired out last week in IGP’s first official question-and-answer session.
Eighteen citizens who live near the proposed site of IGP’s $2.8 billion methanol plant gathered at a Jesuit Bend restaurant Oct. 16 to express their concerns to company officials in a proto-Community Advisory Panel meeting. Some of those citizens are already members of the Phillips 66 CAP, while others represent the communities of Woodpark, Ironton and Myrtle Grove. Randall Harris, chief technology officer for IGP, said a career path director from the Plaquemines Parish School Board’s Career Technical Education program, along with a few citizens who missed the first meeting, have also been invited to join IGP’s CAP to provide regular feedback on community concerns about the new plant.
“We wanted to reach out early,” Harris told the group. “We wanted to kick off our CAP now. Normally you wait until closer to the opening of the facility. But we really want to be good neighbors.”
He said the company made a mistake in allowing a Department of Environmental Quality public hearing on air permits to be the first time the public had a chance to weigh in on the methanol plant. At that Sept. 21 hearing, DEQ gathered public comments, but there was no opportunity for back-and-forth communication between residents and IGP officials. Still, much of the same information and concerns were voiced at the CAP meeting, and Harris said the company will delve deeper into each issue as the CAP reconvenes each month.
The next CAP meeting is tentatively scheduled for early November.
Conrad Lawrence of Myrtle Grove got the serious questions popping by asking if IGP plans to build a flood wall around its plant to protect the plant from a flood and prevent methanol from getting into the river. Keith Vidalin, IGP’s project director, said the company will build a levee structure and elevate some equipment, but the full extent of its risk mitigation steps won’t be finalized until approximately six months from now as designs for the plant progress.
Harris said IGP hopes to break ground in early 2018, but the plant won’t be complete and operational until mid-to-late 2020.
Joe Chedotal of Port Sulphur noted that methanol is highly flammable and asked how IGP plans to prevent explosions. Harris and Vidalin explained that each of its six-to-10 tanks will have an internal nitrogen blanket floating on top of the liquid, preventing oxygen from mixing with the methanol, thus depriving it of fuel for combustion. In the event that fails, they said firefighting foam and water curtain systems will be installed outside the tanks alongside thermal cameras to detect the clear flame produced by burning methanol. If a tank ruptures, they said any gaseous elements would diffuse into the atmosphere too quickly to support a flame.
The most contentious question of the night came from Paul Gelpi of Wood Park, who asked why IGP chose to located right next to International Marine Terminals, which borders several neighborhoods, rather than somewhere less populated along the West Bank or on the East Bank. IGP plans to share IMT’s existing dock.
“Why here when there are so many other places to go? You can’t build a dock but the project is $2 billion? It sounds like you’re lining the pockets of the parish,” said Gelpi.
Vidalin quickly challenged Gelpi to expound on his theory, but Gelpi demurred, replying “It just sounds that way, I don’t know.”
Harris explained that, in addition to use of the deep draft dock, the location next to IMT was also ideal for accessing pipelines that extend from a “pooling point” in northwest Mississippi that aren’t available elsewhere in the parish. That “pooling point” draws cheaper natural gas from as far away as Canada, and passes through a compression station in Port Sulphur.
Cassandra Wilson of Ironton followed up that point by asking why the methanol plant wouldn’t be located closer to Port Sulphur.
“They’re putting all these refineries in neighborhoods where kids are,” said Wilson.
Harris replied that Venture Global’s new $8 billion liquefied natural gas plant has already claimed the best property farther south along the river. He assured Wilson that IGP is working to create the “lowest possible impacts” in the area around its plant.
Answering a question about air quality from Andrea Declouet of Ironton, Harris said emissions from IGP’s plant will be primarily water vapor with “no concentrations (of additional chemicals) to be a health concern.”
Warren Lawrence of Myrtle Grove asked for the location of the nearest comparable methanol plant to the one IGP plans to build, saying he hoped to contact citizens living near that plant to ask about concerns. The answer was the Celanese plant in Clear Lake, Texas.
Lawrence expressed skepticism in everything from DEQ’s granting of IGP’s air permits (“I trust DEQ about as far as I can throw this building.”) to the lack of IGP’s corporate presence at its proposed site.
“If your corporate headquarters was working next to this plant I’d have more faith,” said Lawrence. “We’ve seen corporations come and go. Tomorrow (IGP’s plant) could be an ammonia plant.”
Vidalin told Lawrence that concerns about IGP’s commitment to Plaquemines Parish, along with all the other concerns raised at the meeting, are exactly why the company is reaching out to establish a CAP. With the preliminary meeting out of the way, the IGP officials said the group would look deeper into the specifics of the project at later meetings.
The Plaquemines Gazette
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