EPA Acts on Violations of the Clean Air Act

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EPA Acts on Violations of the Clean Air Act

Shell Oil Will Spend $115 Million+ in Settlements for Alleged Violations of the Clean Air Act

The US Department of Justice and the EPA report that Shell Oil has agreed to spend more that $115 million to reduce harmful air pollution at a refinery and chemical plant in the Houston Area.  The agreement is part of a settlement that was made when the Department of Justice filed a complaint against Shell Oil for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. 

The facilities in question are the Deer Park refinery and the adjacent chemical plant.  According to the EPA, the refinery is the 11th largest in the United States and the chemical plant “produces approximately 8,000 tons per day of products that include ethylene, benzene, toluene, xylene, phenol, and acetone.” Both facilities “operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

The DOJ and the EPA assert that the Deer Park facility “improperly operated its 12 steam-assisted flaring devices in such a way that excess VOCs, including benzene and other hazardous air pollutants, were emitted.”  Benzene is a carcinogen, and can cause reproductive problems for women.

Shell oil will spend the bulk of the $115 million on pollution controls in the form of improvements to the technologies, processes, and monitoring systems that it uses in the refinery and plant. The company will also pay $2.6 million in civil penalties.

The EPA believes that “the pollution controls required by the settlement will reduce harmful air emissions of sulfur dioxide volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene, and other hazardous air pollutants by an estimate 4,550 tons or more per year.”  The EPA also asserts that the controls will “reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by approximately 260,000 tons per year.”

Shell Oil  will spend $1 million on a new system to monitor benzene levels at the perimeter of the refinery and chemical plant. The plant and refinery are located in the vicinity of a residential area and a school. Shell will notify the public of the benzene levels via a website.

Shell will begin a waste-gas recovery and recycling program. It will spend over $100 million on a system to capture and recycle waste gases from industrial flares.  Industrial flares are devices used to burn waste gases. Gas recovery will reduce air pollution from these flares. Shell must ensure that gases in the flares are burned with 98% efficiency, and it must recycle waste gases as either fuel or product.

Shell will also improve its waste-water treatment plant. It will replace and repair tanks as necessary, conduct bi-weekly inspections of tanks using infrared technology to identify potential sources of leaks, and it will enhance monitoring practices at the unit that produces benzene.  The EPA estimates that upgrades to the waste-water treatment plant will cost between $15 million dollars and $60 million dollars.

In its press release, the EPA notes that this settlement is part of its larger initiative to “reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants, with a particular focus on industrial flares.” As stated in the press release, the EPA “wants companies to flare less, and when they do flare, to fully burn the harmful chemicals found in the waste gas.”

This case is consistent with the EPA’s stated goal to “target and reduce illegal emissions of toxic air pollutants from leaks and flares, as well as target and reduce excess emissions, at facilities that have a significant impact on air quality and health in communities.”

The official EPA press release is found here.

Information about the EPA’s initiative to cut hazardous air pollution on its website.

The complaint filed by the Department of Justice is available here, and is open for public comment.

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