Kinder Morgan wants to expand offerings

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has applied to add to its Charleston plant three tanks that would store paraxylene, a byproduct of the oil refining process.

A Texas-based energy giant wants to add an unpronounceable product to its list of offerings available through its Charleston terminal.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has applied to build three domed storage tanks that would hold paraxylene (pronounced pehr-ah-ZY-leen), a clear liquid left over from the oil refinery process.

Polyester and plastic manufacturers buy the chemical to make items such as resilient food containers, thread-like fibers for carpeting and the polyester-based film found inside VHS tapes, said James Cooper, vice president of petrochemicals for the Washington-based National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.

"Most people would never see this or come into contact with it," said Cooper, who said it smells similar to stain remover Goof Off.

Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Emily Mir Thompson wouldn't identify which local companies want to buy the chemical. She said the company handles paraxylene at 18 other sites and that the local terminal could open the storage tanks by the end of the year.

Environmental permits indicate that the substance could leave the terminal by truck or train. It's unclear how the product would get to the site from a refinery or whether workers will use the shipping facilities.

Kinder Morgan handles coal, salt, petroleum coke and a handful of other products at its 206-acre terminal along the Cooper River, which went largely unnoticed until the company applied for permits to expand its coal operation. The 2005 proposal triggered complaints from nearby residents and boaters who said coal dust was polluting the surrounding area.

After creating a community panel and spending millions of dollars on facility upgrades, company officials were granted the expansion permit, but they later scrapped the plans after the economic recession cooled demand for imported coal.

Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or kstech@postandcourier.com.