By Dana Drugmand
Pennsylvania state regulators have ordered a Shell subsidiary to pay nearly $10 million to resolve multiple air permit violations committed by the company’s new petrochemical facility located about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
The move comes amidst mounting frustration and outrage from area residents and environmental organizations over the plant’s release of hazardous chemicals and foul odors and disruptive flaring – a process designed to burn up invisible harmful hydrocarbons produced through plant operations – in recent months.
Shell’s 386-acre facility, located on the banks of the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania near the town of Monaca, is the largest plastics production plant in the Northeast and Shell’s largest petrochemical facility outside of the Gulf Coast. The plant uses a process called “cracking” to convert the natural gas liquid ethane into the petrochemical ethylene, a building block for fossil fuel-derived plastic production.
Since Shell announced the startup of operations in November, the $6 billion plastics production facility has racked up 11 notices of violation – all pertaining to air quality – from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), including four last week alone.
On Wednesday the state announced a consent order and agreement with Shell Chemicals Appalachia, the subsidiary operating the plant. Under the arrangement, the company has formally acknowledged its violations of the state’s Air Pollution Control Act and agreed to pay $4.9 million as a civil penalty plus another $5 million for projects to “benefit community environment and health.” Shell also agreed to make equipment repairs and take “all reasonable and feasible measures” to mitigate excess emissions, along with paying monthly civil penalties for future exceedance of emissions limits for the rest of 2023.