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Shell Cracker Plant Facing DEP Violations, Potential Lawsuit

The November start-up of the massive Shell ethane cracker plant along the Ohio River in Beaver County has already triggered several notices of violation from the state Department of Environmental Resources and a notice from two environmental groups that they intend to sue over air pollution violations.

In addition, the plant has had several incidents where an elevated flare had to be activated after an equipment malfunction, sending flames and smoke into the sky.

The more than $6 billion petrochemical plant, which went into service after years of planning and construction, uses ethane, a product of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales, and converts it through a high-temperature chemical process into polyethylene pellets that are used in plastics production.

Since its start-up in November, the plant has received three notices of violation (NOV) for air pollution violations. The most recent violation was issued Feb. 13 based on emissions data the company self-reported for November and December, after operations began.

DEP said that the company exceeded the 12-month rolling emissions limit contained in its permit of 516.2 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 328.5 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx). “The 12-month rolling emission data provided by Shell shows that for the 12-month period ending in November of 2022 total VOC emissions reached 716.6 tons, for the 12-month period in December of 2022 total VOC emissions reached 741.5 tons, and for the 12-month period ending in December of 2022 total NOx emissions reached 345.4 tons,” the NOV states. VOCs are gases emitted into the air and can cause health problems.

The previous notice of violation in December covered September emissions data as the company was starting up the facility for production.

After the most recent flaring incident, the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project asked the DEP to “temporarily halt operations of the Shell Polymers Monaca plant in Beaver County until the company can demonstrate it can operate in compliance with pollution control laws.”

The two groups have also filed notices of intent to sue Shell for violating its air pollution permit limits, claiming the emissions “contribute to smog and health problems.”

“Since the plant has come online, Shell has struggled to meet its permit limits, and DEP needs to order a pause to operations until Shell can comply with the law,” said Sarah Kula, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

Shell said in a statement to the Pittsburgh Business Times that is working with the state to address the emissions violations.

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