Black Smoke Erupts from Shell Cracker Plant

Just after high noon on Sunday, right before the Steelers home opener kickoff, local residents saw black smoke belching from the elevated “candlestick” flare at the new Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex near Monaca, PA.

Residents of Washington County, PA are no strangers to similar sorts of black smoke flaring events at MarkWest’s Houston, PA Gas Plant, which is on the upstream end of the ‘ethane chain’ used to manufacture plastic ‘nurdles.’ The day and night flaring events were enough to cause some families to move away from the ongoing air pollution, with at least one family moving out of Pennsylvania, from an area they had always loved.

While Shell reported this event as “safe way to burn hydrocarbon gases,” black smoke is a bad sign, indicating incomplete combustion, with additional air pollutants being released into the air unburned. Local news reports indicated the flaring was “because of a process compressor shutdown.”

The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, in California has estimated that the following air pollutants may be released from natural gas flares: benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, including naphthalene), acetaldehyde, acrolein, propylene, toluene, xylenes, ethyl benzene and hexane. Researchers in Canada have measured more than 60 air pollutants downwind of natural gas flares.

Flaring & venting | earthworks

Almost on cue, the day after Shell’s flaring event, reporter Chrissy Suttles posted a story in the Beaver County Times: Researchers studying environmental health in Beaver County.

A team from the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities has launched an environmental health initiative to gather public perceptions about community health and perceived risks in Beaver County, while collecting baseline data on environmental exposures. Beaver County residents are encouraged to participate in an online survey exploring their thoughts on community health and various environmental risks. To participate, email for the link to enroll.

Chrissy Suttles | Beaver County Times | September 19, 2022

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