Shell Chemical has temporarily shut down its massive plastics and petrochemicals site near Pittsburgh.
A Shell spokesperson confirmed to Plastics News on April 26 that the site's cracker and polyethylene resin units "are currently down."
In an April 25 virtual meeting with community members, Shell officials said that the plant has been shut down as the firm works to upgrade flaring, wastewater treatment and other systems, according to a report from the Pittsburgh Business Times.
At that virtual meeting, company officials apologized for an odor that traveled outside the plant in Monaca, Pa., and an inadvertent release of benzene and volatile organic compounds earlier this month, according to the PBT report.
The plant has received 11 violation notices from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection since September, mainly for exceeding monthly emissions limits over a 12-month rolling basis and for unexpected flaring — including a highly visible flare over the site.
PBT quoted site manager Bill Watson saying that factors contributing to the additional flaring, included temporary initial startup activities, an "equipment shakedown" period and "unforeseen and unpredictable circumstances that arose due to the complexity of this site and this project."
Watson added that the Monaca complex "is one of the most complex industrial sites in the United States" but that "no violation is acceptable, so we're going to continue to be transparent, report out [and] comply with regulations … to ensure our operations have no negative impact on people and the environment."
At the meeting, Shell officials acknowledged that plastics feedstock benzene had been detected in monitors inside the plant and the odor was detected outside the plant on April 11. They said that the odor and emissions were caused by hydrocarbons inadvertently being sent into the plant's wastewater treatment system.
There were no adverse effects to workers at the plant or members of the community from that incident, officials said, and the site was not evacuated or sheltered in place. Shell immediately put into place intensive air monitoring as well as specialized monitoring by Shell and third-party responders.
Officials promised "further transparency and faster communication to the community" when there's an issue at the plant, according to the report. Watson said that many of the plant's employees live in the community and some were raised there. He added that "it's important to build and maintain trust by telling the truth about issues as they arise."
In February, two environmental groups filed a formal notice of their intention to sue Shell over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act and state laws. The Environmental Integrity Project and the Clean Air Council planned plan to sue Shell Chemicals Appalachia LLC over releases of volatile organic compounds from the plant.
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.