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Residents take legal action against Shell as new local facility wreaks havoc on community: 'We all knew it was going to be bad, but it's shockingly bad'

The plant has already racked up 23 air quality and clean water violations in just the last two years.

The plant has already racked up 23 air quality and clean water violations in just the last two years.

Photo Credit: iStock

Shell convinced Beaver County, Pennsylvania, that an ethane cracker plant would be a boon, but it's caused an abundance of problems in less than two years of operations.

What's happening?

With promises of increased employment, tax revenue, wages, and economic output, Shell said the plant would be worth billions of dollars over its 40 years, Inside Climate News reported. So Pennsylvania gave Shell $1.65 billion to land the facility in the state.

In just the last two years, though, it has racked up 23 air quality and clean water violations from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. It exceeded 12-month volatile organic compound, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and hazardous air pollutant limits in just six months, per ICN's reporting. Residents are being exposed to known carcinogens and other chemicals that can cause blood disorders, convulsions, and breathing problems, according to ICN, and some have even moved.

The problems began before the Monaca site became operational. It was even cited by the state DEP in 2021, and two lawsuits allege violations of the Clean Air Act and Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act, as well as damages to neighboring properties with "noxious odors, fugitive dust and light emissions," ICN reported.

"I think expectations from the beginning were extremely low," Earthworks petrochemicals campaigner Anaïs Peterson told ICN. "It was very clear what kind of facility this was going to be. We all knew it was going to be bad, but it's shockingly bad."

Why are these living conditions important?

Some pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, are more harmful to children than adults, and there are three elementary schools within five miles of the plant, ICN reported.

Jackie Shock-Stewart, who moved her family from the area, said she didn't realize the stress she was under until they left. The smell, noise, and light from the plant have been most problematic for others, and a filmmaker and activist compared it to the gates of hell.

"I can never sit on my porch, we can't garden," one local said in the ICN report. "We are constantly dusting every day now. Our house was never as dusty as it is now, before the plant opened."

They don't have much recourse aside from the lawsuits. Shell has been fined $12 million, but it reaped $28 billion in profits last year. ICN noted the company can basically "pay to pollute."

What's being done about the facility?

ICN reported that the community's best bet is to remain active in holding Shell accountable. Education, advocacy, and voting are three important steps in that struggle, including understanding when a company might be overselling any eco-friendly claims — a practice known as greenwashing

"There's still an opportunity to stop [expansion]," Yvette Arellano, the founder and executive director of Fenceline Watch, told ICN.

The deadline just passed for Shell to submit an operating permit to the state DEP. The regulator's response is due within 18 months

The clock is ticking, but Arellano said it will be more effective to "[erode Shell's] social license" to pollute than rely on government regulation.

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