An environmental group has filed a lawsuit against Shell Chemical over repeated emissions violations at the firm's new plastics and petrochemicals site near Pittsburgh.
The Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council filed the suit May 11 in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. The group is asking for unspecified relief. The Clean Air Council "is unaware of any actions [Shell] has taken that are sufficient to eliminate future violations of the types alleged in this complaint," officials said in the filing.
The new plant in Monaca, Pa., has been down since late April as the firm works to upgrade flaring, wastewater treatment and other systems.
A company spokesman addressed the shutdown in a message sent to Plastics News.
"In our endeavor to bring one of the largest and most complex petrochemical complexes to its production potential, we have encountered equipment issues which have required maintenance in order to continue our ramp up of [the plant] safely and effectively," he said.
The spokesman added that Shell will continue to prioritize health and safety for its workers, the community and environment, and product quality. In March, Shell communicated "a significant delay" with reaching full production volume on one of the site's three polyethylene resin units.
"We continue to work multiple options to bring that reactor to full production as soon as possible," the spokesman said. "This constraint and ongoing work does not impact the operability of [the site's ethylene] cracker or the other two [PE] units."
He added that, more recently, Shell identified an issue with one of the site's flare systems.
"The cracker and [PE] units were proactively shut down and will remain offline until the flare system work is complete and fully operational, the spokesman said. "The work on the flare does not impact the ongoing work to bring the previously communicated [PE] unit to full production."
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has cited the Shell site with 14 emissions violations since July 2022. Twelve of those violations were related to air quality, with the other two connected to clean water. The site had been cited four times for similar violations between 2017 and mid-2022.
Most recently, the site on April 17 was cited by PDEP for odor emissions caused by hydrocarbons in biotreaters at the site's wastewater treatment plant. According to a PDEP filing, Shell reported that the cause of the odors was a valve left open between the wastewater plant and a set of liquid hydrocarbon-containing drums. This opening caused hydrocarbons from the drums to be pumped to the wastewater plant.
PDEP officials said in the filing that the April 17 citation constitutes unlawful conduct and a public nuisance under state law and is subject to penalties. They added that Shell will be informed of any enforcement action.
Shell officially began production at the site in November. It has annual production capacity of about 3.5 billion pounds of PE resin and is the first major PE manufacturing complex in the Northeastern U.S. and the first U.S. plant built outside of the Gulf Coast in at least 40 years.
Officials have said the complex is strategically located within a 700-mile radius of 70 percent of the U.S. PE market. The 384-acre site has contracted most of its natural gas feedstock from the nearby Utica and Marcellus basins.