Shell Cracker Plant: ‘Grinch’ Nets PA DEP Air Pollution Violation

Additional flaring during the startup of the Shell Petrochemicals Complex on Nov. 15th, caused the huge cracker plant to exceed annual air pollution limits. This wasn’t their first violation!

Bob’s Blog December 1, 2022: ‘Orange Sky at Night, Frackers Delight’

Chrissy Suttles reported in the Beaver County Times on December 14, 2022:

POTTER TWP. – State regulators on Wednesday issued Shell Corp. a violation notice for exceeding its rolling limit on air contaminant emissions during the commissioning of Beaver County’s newly operational petrochemical plant. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection said Shell’s emissions data for the 12-month period ending in September showed volatile organic compound emissions reached 521.6 tons — more than the company’s state-permitted 516.2 tons — and reached 662.9 tons for the period ending in October. Recent flaring episodes have left residents stunned by the dramatic orange glow above the plant that can often be seen for miles.

Regulators say Shell exceeded emissions cap during cracker plant startup | Beaver County Times | December 14, 2022
Anya Litvak reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 15, 2022:

“Already, with an annual VOC limit of 516.2 tons, the Shell facility was permitted to be the largest emitter of these compounds in the state.”

Anya Litvak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Shell Chemicals’ new cracker plant in Beaver County has exceeded its air permit limits for two months in a row, prompting a notice of violation from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The petrochemical plant near Monaca was officially pronounced to be in commercial operations last month, but start up activities began months earlier. In September, the facility had by far its worst air quality month, releasing 492 tons of volatile organic compounds from its high-pressure flare, according to data submitted to the DEP by Shell. The emissions ate up 95% of the annual limit included in Shell’s air permit.

Shell’s flaring at Beaver County cracker plant pushed company over air permit limits, data shows | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | December 15, 2022

“When you see the orange flare, it means conditions at the plant are out of normal operation. People should check air monitors, protect themselves and keep their eyes on Shell.”

Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Collaborative

DEP Newsroom

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
Dept. of Environmental Protection

Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA., 17120

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
12/14/2022

CONTACT:
Lauren Camarda, DEP
412-442-4203

DEP Issues Notice of Violation to Shell Chemicals Appalachia, LLC for Air Emissions Exceedances
DEP has requested information from Shell as it considers additional enforcement actions

Pittsburgh, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today issued a notice of violation (NOV) to Shell Chemicals Appalachia, LLC (Shell) for exceeding its rolling 12-month total emission limitations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during commissioning of its petrochemical facility in Potter Township, Beaver County.  

Shell’s air quality plan approval states that the facility’s emissions of VOCs shall not equal or exceed 516.2 tons of VOCs in a 12-month period. On November 7, 2022, Shell reported emissions data showing that for the 12-month period ending in September 2022, the total VOC emissions reached 521.6 tons and for the 12-month period ending in October 2022, VOC emissions reached 662.9 tons. Until September 2022, the facility’s emissions were below its 12-month rolling limits for all air contaminants. These emissions are associated with initial startup of the facility. 

This exceedance is a violation of Shell’s plan approvals (PA-04-00740APA-04-00740B, and PA-04-00740C) and the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act and regulations. A DEP air quality plan approval is required for a facility to commence construction and for its initial operation and imposes mandatory limits on the levels of pollutants that may be emitted.

Under Pennsylvania’s air regulations, this facility is considered to be a major source of air contaminants for ozone precursors (nitrogen oxides (NOx) and VOCs), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), and carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). 

Issuance of this NOV is an initial step in DEP’s compliance and enforcement process; it is not a final action. DEP is actively investigating these violations and obtaining additional information, data, and reporting from Shell and may take additional enforcement actions as appropriate to compel compliance, require corrective actions, and assess civil penalties.

Emissions data provided by Shell in November also showed increases – but not exceedances – of other air contaminants, including CO, NOx, and HAPs. DEP’s Air Quality Program Air Monitoring Section is currently evaluating ambient air data collected by DEP’s air quality monitoring network. 

As part of its investigation, DEP has requested that Shell submit a root cause analysis and description of efforts to minimize flaring, as well as an emissions exceedance report and mitigation plan within 45 days that evaluates the commissioning process from the facility.  

DEP is authorized under the Air Pollution Control Act to order compliance where appropriate.

Permitting and compliance information on this facility is available on DEP’s website, https://www.dep.pa.gov/About/Regional/SouthwestRegion/Community%20Information/Pages/Shell-Petrochemical-Complex-.aspx.  

MEDIA CONTACT: Lauren Camarda, lcamarda@pa.gov, 412-442-4203

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Nurdle railcars

Other DEP Inspections Found Violations:

According to DEP’s eFACTS Database, DEP inspections on these dates also found Air Quality violations at the Shell Petrochemical Facility–

July 20, 2022: Failure to operate an air pollution source or control device according to specifications.

August 31, 2022: Failure to operate an air pollution source or control device according to specifications.

September 13, 2022: Failure to operate an air pollution source or control device according to specifications.

September 14, 2022: Failure to operate an air pollution source or control device according to specifications.

September 20, 2022: Failure to operate an air pollution source or control device according to specifications.

September 30, 2022: Failure to comply with EPA Hazardous Air Pollutant Standards related to asbestos, benzene, beryllium, radon and other radionuclides, arsenic, mercury, and vinyl chloride. 

October 27, 2022: Failure to operate an air pollution source or control device according to specifications.

November 2, 2022: Failure to comply with EPA Hazardous Air Pollutant Standards related to asbestos, benzene, beryllium, radon and other radionuclides, arsenic, mercury, and vinyl chloride. 

DEP Issues Notice Of Violation To Shell Petrochemical Plant In Beaver County For Air Quality Violations In Sept. – Oct. | PaEN | December 14, 2022

“It’s a little surprising that the plant wasn’t even fully operational and yet it still exceeded limits on VOC emissions — by a lot. Cracking ethane to make plastic is inherently dirty and dangerous, so frankly, I’m not aware of any steps that Shell can take to make what they’re doing safer. Flaring is what cracker plants do, and residents living around cracker plants need to understand that this facility is going to be flaring methane and ethane and other hydrocarbons as well.”

Dr. Ned Ketyer, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania
October 21, 2022

It’s the ninth different notice of violation for the Shell plant since July 21 — seven regarding air quality issues and two for water quality. Notices are an initial step in environmental compliance and could lead to enforcement actions such as corrective actions and civil penalties, DEP noted in a statement.A mitigation plan, a report on the excess emissions and a root cause analysis all are due from Shell within 45 days, per DEP. The refinery is located in Potter Township along the Ohio River about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It became fully operational in mid-November. Construction began in 2017. The project drew opposition from environmentalists and continued scrutiny including ground-level community air monitoring.

By Eric Scicchitano | DEP: Opening of Shell’s western Pa. ‘cracker’ caused pollutants to spike | The Herald | December 14, 2022

‘Eyes on Shell’ – BC-MAC

How The Smog Stole Christmas

Shell Air Pollution Soars During Startup of Beaver County Cracker Plant

DEP Issues Notice Of Violation To Shell Petrochemical Plant In Beaver County For Air Quality Violations In Sep-Oct

Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC Petrochemicals Complex, Beaver County – Site Background – PA DEP

PA DEP Plan Approvals:
In other news

DEP Assesses $600,000 Penalty For Illegal Disposal Of Over 1,800 Truck Loads Of Oil & Gas Waste Drill Cuttings In Fayette County
December 15, 2022 – Between June 1, 2013, and June 30, 2015, DEP estimated that Joseph caused or allowed 1,831 truckloads of solid waste from oil and gas operations in West Virginia to be disposed at sites in Pennsylvania without maintaining required transportation records or obtaining authorization or a permit from DEP. 

EIP Urges EPA to Limit Benzene Pollution from Western PA Steel Plants in Response to Community Monitoring Data
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EPA Accepts Final DEP Oil/Gas Facility VOC/Methane Emission Limits Regulations For Review, Stops Imposition Of Federal Highway Funding, Other Sanctions
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DEP Consent Agreement Allowing Shale Gas Drilling To Resume Under Dimock, Susquehanna County Sets New Drilling, Water Supply Protection Standards, Imposes $444,000 Penalty
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