SPECIAL REPORT: Is flaring a cause for concern? - FOX29 Lake Charles

SPECIAL REPORT: Is flaring a cause for concern?

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For residents of Southwest Louisiana, industrial plants are no strange sight.

However, there are some sights and sounds associated with living by them that some may find alarming.

“Typically, in a plant operation, there are some visuals from the road, from the highway, from the neighborhood,” said Larry DeRoussel, the executive director of the Lake Area Industry Alliance.

Flaring occurs when the plant partially or fully shuts down and starts up again. The flammable gasses need to be released and burned off to prevent a more serious situation.

“That’s all a controlled situation there are noises you here from time to time which may be associated with a decomp, if you will, which is not a serious situation that happens from time to time,” said DeRoussel.

That rumbling you may hear is just the machines starting up after a shutdown.

“When they see they white stuff coming off the cooling tower, that’s vapor - that’s not chemicals or anything else,” said DeRoussel.

Dick Gremillion, Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness director, said there are a lot of new people coming to the area and social media has heightened the interest in flaring.  

“Now, anyone who has a cell phone is a reporter,” said Gremillion. “I can video any event and I can put that on Facebook Live or YouTube. It’s a good thing we have more info available; what’s not so good is sometimes it takes us a little while to get the information.”

If there is something happening at a plant, DeRoussel assures, you will know it.

“Sirens are tested once a week to make sure they’re operating, so if you hear sirens on a Monday or Wednesday around noon time, that’s normal, that’s just a testing of the system. If you hear a siren at any other time, go inside turn on your TV,” said DeRoussel.

Besides the sirens there is a care notification system which sends alerts out to all public officials.

“That notification goes out simultaneously to all of the other plants to the state police local fire stations all other local entities as well as the office of homeland security as well as 911 so they all become aware of the situation simultaneously,” said DeRoussel.

That’s where Gremillion comes in.

“We have a script for the person who originates the problem to follow and it lets us know exactly what’s going on and what public protective action we have to take,” said Gremillion.

And it lets residents in affected areas know through a handy system.

“We have the CalcaShout system that sends out text messages; we have a telephone that calls landline telephones; we have less and less landlines, so it’s a good idea to sign up for CalcaShout if you could,” said Gremillion.

It won’t be instant, but Gremillion assured the calls will happen within a few minutes.

“When there is a release that would harm the public, we’ll push that out they won’t have to be wondering what’s going on they’ll be getting a notification about what’s happening and what action to take,” said Gremillion.

When it comes to getting the proper information out once the incident occurs, State police also join in.

“Louisiana State Police generally responds to hazardous materials emergencies including those that happen at industrial plants,” said Sgt. James Anderson of Troop D. “Our job is to get info out to the public that’s accurate in a timely fashion.”

Their part was demonstrated to the fullest extent during an incident at the Packaging Corporation of America Mill in Beauregard Parish, when three contractors were killed following an explosion.

“That was a joint effort with BPSO. We were able to provide the immediate information and BPSO was able to fill in some of the facts where necessary,” said Anderson.

He also said it’s a joint effort with all agencies including the plants.

“We had a flaring issue with Citgo not too long ago and their public relations folks did a fantastic job. I was there behind the scenes working with them to assist them. We all have a vested interest in making sure everyone is safe,” said Anderson.

He said this partnership is crucial in our fast growing industrial community.

“We can provide info in a seamless manner to the public to make sure they have the info they need in a timely manner,” said Anderson.

So the next time you see a flare, don’t panic, remember…

“The safeguards may look a little scary sometimes when there is a lot of flaring but they are designed to keep people safe these companies want to keep their employees safe they want to keep the people who live around the plants safe everything is geared towards safety,” said Anderson.

Click HERE for more information on the Lake Area Industry Alliance.

Click HERE to sign up for Calcashout.

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