Environmental officials in Pennsylvania are investigating Shell Chemicals Appalachia LLC after its new Monaca petrochemical complex used up nearly all of its rolling annual emissions allotment even before its official opening.
Shell announced the opening Nov. 15, but startup operations began months before. In September, the plant released 492 tons of volatile organic compounds, Shell officials reported Nov. 7 to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The release pushed the 12-month rolling emissions total over the plant's limit of 516.2 tons, reaching 521.6 tons.
Emissions exceeded the limit again in October, reaching 662.9 tons.
DEP said Shell blamed equipment testing and start-up conditions that necessitated flaring at the ethylene cracker, but the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Shell has 45 days to submit a root cause analysis and description of efforts to minimize flaring.
"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," the agency said in a Dec. 14 news release.
Under the state's air regulations, the $6 billion facility, which employs 600, is considered a major source of air contaminants for ozone precursors and other hazardous pollution.
The 386-acre site, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, isn't expected to reach full production capacity until the second half of next year. The plant will produce around 3.5 billion pounds (1.6 million metric tons) of polyethylene annually, Shell said.