A Marrero plant that recycles motor oil is seeking to increase its daily capacity by about one third, and the state Department of Environmental Quality will host a meeting this month to gather public comment on the plan.
Vertex Energy has been working with DEQ to modify its air-quality permit since August 2014, when the River Road plant began operating under a compliance order to correct air-quality violations found earlier that year.
Vertex had just bought the facility from Omega Holdings Co., which owned and operated the plant on most of the days it was found to have violated state emissions limits.
The plant and other nearby industrial sites have been the subject of numerous odor complaints by nearby residents, and the area is the subject of a separate special-use permit revision to be considered by the Jefferson Parish Council in February.
The public hearing hosted by DEQ will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 21 at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero.
Vertex Facility Manager Stacey Lucas said the plant’s DEQ permit dates back to 1996, when it was owned by Chevron, and the modification request includes efficiency upgrades and other changes, not just the request to increase output.
She said Vertex has met with residents and regulators since it acquired the plant in May 2014. “We’ve worked with DEQ for a year and a half to get to this point,” she said.
The request technically would double the plant’s authorized capacity from 3,000 barrels a day to 6,000 barrels a day, but Lucas noted it has been allowed to produce up to 4,500 barrels per day since it came under the compliance order and in fact has been doing so.
Lucas said the company has been working on dealing with odor issues, which she said tend to occur when the company does maintenance “turnarounds” twice a year, not during regular operations. She said Vertex now fully drains vessels and uses steam and detergents before opening them, and it now uses carbon canisters on its vacuum trucks.
“We have a huge list of things that we do, and we continue to improve every turnaround,” she said.
Vertex has invested about $1 million in the facility and has been meeting with residents, the local Fire Department and state and parish regulators, she said.
Lucas said Vertex ran emissions tests with DEQ at 5,300 barrels-per-day capacity and then adjusted the numbers upward to estimate emissions at 60,000 barrels per day. It found emissions levels for most compounds were between 30 percent and 50 percent lower than in previous tests, though hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds were higher, she said.
After receiving odor complaints about Vertex and nearby Magellan Terminals, DEQ conducted a community air review in 2014 but did not detect the compounds it tested for.
According to DEQ, there were about 40 odor complaints against Vertex in 2015, but the presumed source of the odor is identified by the complainant, not the state.
Lucas said Vertex wants to hear from residents who smell odors so it can work to make improvements to how it operates.
Bob Darcey, hazardous materials coordinator for Jefferson Parish, said while the plant “has been a problem since the day it was built,” improvements have been made under the new ownership.
“We’ve been working with them on turnarounds,” he said. “There were problems with their turnarounds, and they’ve cleaned that up quite a bit.”
Darcey said that with several industrial plants in the area, it can be difficult to tell where odors are coming from. He said the parish requires special-use permits for some industrial plants — Vertex’s comes up for renewal Feb. 17 — to ensure they operate safely.
Lucas said many of the parish’s requirements have been met through improvements Vertex has been making in concert with DEQ.
She said it could be months before DEQ decides on the permit modification, and the upgrades necessary to increase production could take as long as a year.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.