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Shell Faces Lawsuit Over Pollution from Beaver County Cracker Plant

Two environmental groups have filed a lawsuit asking the federal court to order Shell Chemical Appalachia to operate its Beaver County petrochemical plant within legal guidelines and to impose civil penalties for repeated violations of air pollution regulations.

The Clean Air Council and Environmental Integrity Project brought the “citizen suit” against Shell under the Clean Air Act, which allows individuals to take legal action alleging violations of emission standards to require corrective action to be taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The huge ethane cracker plant built along the Ohio River began operation in November, and since then it has repeatedly exceeded its statewide, 12-month rolling permit limits for volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the lawsuit states.

In addition, the plant has repeatedly released visible emissions from the plant’s flares in violation of the law and the plant’s plan approval.

The environmental groups said they filed the lawsuit on behalf of citizens living near the plant because neither the EPA nor the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is “diligently prosecuting a civil action in federal or state court to require Shell to comply” with the law.

“The Council’s members are concerned about the impact of the plant’s illegal pollution on their health and the health of their families. These members see the plant’s flares and smell odors from the plant and alter or restrict their daily activities in response. In some cases, members have suffered headaches or felt nauseous when smelling odors from the plant.

“The Council’s members go outside, recreate, garden, and enjoy their properties less due to the illegal pollution from the plant. One member has chosen to delay starting a family due to the illegal pollution from the plant. Some members fear they may be forced to move away from their current home due to impacts they and their families experience from illegal pollution from the plant,” the suit states.

The DEP has issued 12 notices of air pollution violations at the plant, but has not taken any enforcement action. Shell has submitted 39 reports of plant malfunctions, including flaring of hydrocarbons.

In April, a malfunction at the plant’s wastewater treatment plant led to 300 pounds of benzene being released into the air, resulting in elevated readings at fence-line monitors on several occasions.

Operations at the plant are currently paused while Shell works to fix issues and damage related to the flaring system. Company officials have said that Shell is working to improve its operations and operate with its permit requirements. Some of the malfunctions have been blamed on the complexity of the start-up process of the new facility.

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