Environmental Concerns Flare Up Over Cracker Plant

MONACA, Pa. – A ground flare that was activated Tuesday evening at Shell Polymers Monaca’s new petrochemical complex has sparked more concerns from a local environmental advocacy group that’s seeking to stop production at the plant.

The organization Eyes On Shell released a statement Wednesday saying the latest flaring incident lasted nearly three hours and was done without proper public notification, leaving many to wonder whether harmful pollutants were emitted into the air.

“Impacted residents deserve transparency,” Eyes On Shell watchdog Andie Grey said in a statement. “For months we’ve been told that these repeated flaring events and noticeable emissions are ‘normal,’ but we know that releasing volatile organic compounds can cause respiratory illness and cancer.”

The group, along with the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project, has petitioned the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to halt operations at the plant, citing numerous violations of environmental regulations.

According to Eyes On Shell, the facility has received three Notice of Violations and submitted at least nine malfunction reports over the four months since operations began at the plant. 

“These violations continue to create unacceptable risks to workers and the nearby communities,” the group’s statement reads.

Curtis Thomas, Shell Polymers’ spokesman, said in an email that flaring is “a safe way to combust hydrocarbon gases to protect the community.”

The flaring, he said, was activated at approximately 10 p.m. Tuesday in response to a compressor trip, resulting in noise that nearby residents heard. “We apologize for any disturbance this may have caused,” he said.

Thomas also said residents might see a glow from the ground flare over the next several nights as hydrocarbons are reintroduced to the system.

Eyes On Shell stated that the DEP is not doing enough to protect the community, which is also still recovering from last month’s toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, less than 35 miles away.

“I’m getting hit from both sides,” said Beaver County resident Hilary Flint. “While the derailment is a tragedy caused by spilling and burning the chemicals used to make plastics, most folks don’t realize that harmful pollution happens every day when you live near a plastics facility. As a young cancer survivor, I worry daily about how the malfunctions at the Shell plant affect my health.”

Eyes on Shell will mark the four month anniversary of operations at Shell Petrochemicals in Beaver County with a day of online action targeting the DEP and calling on the agency to issue a temporary halt in operations, the organization said.

Shell Plc announced 10 years ago it was looking to invest billions of dollars and build a new petrochemical complex to produce polyethylene pellets used by manufacturers of countless plastic products.

The company gave the go-ahead for the project in 2016. Shell selected a site along the Ohio River near Monaca because of its proximity to local ethane gas feedstock produced from the Utica-Point Pleasant shale play in Ohio and the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Pictured at top: The Shell Polymers Monaca plant sits on 800 acres along the Ohio River. 

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