Chaco gas plant seeks expanded permit

James Fenton
The Enterprise Products Operating Chaco Plant, as seen March 15 off County Road 7100 south of Farmington.

FARMINGTON – A natural gas processing plant 15 miles south of Farmington has asked the state to revise it's air quality permit to increase the amounts of certain pollutants and other materials it can release into the atmosphere.

Enterprise Field Services LLC has applied with the state Environment Department to revise its Chaco natural gas processing plant permit. Enterprise applied for the new permit, called a "Significant Permit Revision" by the state's Air Quality Bureau, on Jan. 25.

Allison Scott Majure, NMED spokeswoman, said in an email that the Jan. 25 application was labeled incomplete, which stalls the application process and public comment period for the permit.

"The (bureau) has not started its public comment period yet, as the application was ruled incomplete on Feb. 22, due to minor issues with the public notice," Majure said. "When the application is re-submitted, the (Environment) Department will have 30 days to rule the application complete."

Rainey said the application was resubmitted earlier this month.

"The NMED wanted us to make some minor revisions to the public notice before it was issued," Rainey said.

The Enterprise Products Operating Chaco Plant, as seen March 15 off County Road 7100 south of Farmington.

The new public notice was issued March 7, he said.

The NMED has authority delegated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for implementing the federal Clean Air Act in New Mexico, except on tribal lands and in Bernalillo County. Thus, NMED has the ability to take enforcement action to address noncompliance with state air quality permit conditions, federal air quality regulations, and state air quality regulations, she said.

"We complete a full compliance evaluation of the (Chaco plant) at least every three years with the last inspection occurring Dec.17, 2014, and Jan. 7, 2015," Majure said.

Despite the “Significant Permit Revision” label, the scope of the permit request does not warrant a special inspection by the bureau, Majure said.

According to the bureau's permit application notice, the proposed revision "increases allowable condensate throughput on tanks 28 and 29 from 187,172 barrels (or 7.8 million gallons) per year to 240,000 barrels (or about 10 million gallons) per year."

Enterprise also seeks to reclassify the plant's "drip stabilization surge tank" to "unheated" from its current "heated" classification and to add 10 tons per calendar year of volatile organic compounds emissions to "SSM" and equipment malfunction events. SSM stands for “start-up/shut-down maintenance.”  SSM emissions occur as part of normal operations and maintenance conducted at the plant.

Each scheduled inspection brings a “full compliance evaluation” of a facility under the scope of all applicable state and federal regulations, Majure said.

"No other inspection process would be more thorough or complete," she said.

The Chaco plant, which includes a compressor station, receives natural gas from wells in the field via a pipeline, compresses the gas, and cryogenically separates residual methane from natural gas liquids like ethane and propane. After separation, the residue and liquids are sent for sale or further processing from the facility by pipeline, according to Rick Rainey, Enterprise spokeman.

"After processing, the dry gas is transported and ultimately distributed for use in power generation and as an industrial, commercial and residential fuel," Rainey said.

The mixed liquids are transported via a liquids pipeline to fractionator facilities for separation into individual products like ethane and butane. The compounds are used as a feedstock by the petrochemical industry, and added to gasoline and other fuels for industrial, commercial and residential uses, Rainey said.

The permit change is for a "technical revision" of the gas plant, according to the state Environment Department. The plant includes two cryogenic gas processing units, according to Enterprise data.

A "Detailed Facility Report" that evaluates the Chaco plant over a three-year period and produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists the plant as having one "significant violation" in 2013 between April and June. It also shows the plant was given a "noncompliance" rating by the EPA for seven quarters in 2013, 2014 and January through March of 2016.

Rainey said the violations are related to unstable temperatures of equipment at the plant.

"The event occurred in May 2012 with the matter settled with the EPA in March 2013," he said. "The quarterly non-compliance issues stem from temperatures on certain equipment which were out of range but not immediately discovered. The condition was immediately corrected when discovered."

The gas plant, which is located south of Farmington on Road 7100 along the southern edge of Navajo Agricultural Products Industry farms, is 100-percent owned by Enterprise Field Services LLC and operated by Enterprise Products Operating LLC.

One of 27 natural gas processing plants in the state, the Chaco plant has a total gas processing capacity of 600 million cubic feet per day, according to the company's website.

The Enterprise Products Operating Chaco Plant, as seen March 15 off County Road 7100 south of Farmington.

To comment on Enterprise's permit application for the Chaco plant, call 505-476-4300 or write to the Permit Programs Manager with the NMED Air Quality Bureau, 525 Camino del los Marquez, Suite 1, Santa Fe, NM 87505-1816.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.