A Shell plastics plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, that was facing a lawsuit for excessive pollution output — violating state, federal, and even the company’s limits — is paying just $10 million in fines, according to the Beaver County Times.
Now, the plant is being allowed to resume operations.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court system May 11 by the Clean Air Council and outlines claims of repeated pollution violations since the plant started operating late last year. The Times reported on the fine payment May 24.
This follows a violation notice from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about pollution rule-breaking, filed in December, with orders to find the cause of the issue.
“Shell’s persistent law-breaking must end. The community will not tolerate dangerous pollution events that risk the health of families across Beaver County and beyond,” Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, told The New Lede, an environmental news site.
The environmental watchdogs said in that report that the pollution from the plant can cause nausea, breathing problems, and other health issues.
The plant is meant to have 600 full-time workers at peak operations and produces polyethylene, a plastic used for common household goods, consumer and food packaging, and other products, the company states on its website. During peak production, it is supposed to make about 1.7 million tons of plastic a year using cheap ethane gas.
Shell, an international company, confirmed to WTAE that the DEP issued a violation notice, in part because the company broke its own emissions plan.
“Several factors contributed to the additional flaring during startup, all related to the complexities of commissioning brand-new systems and equipment that make up one of the largest construction projects in the country,” the statement reads. “Though flaring acts as a contingency to combust gases before they enter the atmosphere, no violation is acceptable.”
The statement concludes with a promise by Shell to be transparent, to comply with regulations, and to “ensure operations have no negative impact on people or the environment.”
The Times reports that fines will pay for a civil penalty and local environmental projects. Now that they are square with the state, Shell officials said they intend for the plant to operate within regulations.
“We have worked in conjunction with the DEP to fix plant issues that led to prior violations,” Shell leaders told the Times. “We’ve learned from previous issues and pledge to be the safe environmental steward, good neighbor and business partner this region wants and deserves.”
Shell faces more penalties if the plant exceeds pollution limits again. But, with the issues fixed, the DEP said it is confident in the plant’s ability to operate more cleanly, according to the Times.
“We know that Shell can operate a state-of-the-art facility that helps grow our economy without harming the environment, and we are going to hold them to the requirements laid out in their permits,” acting DEP Secretary Rich Negrín told the Times.
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