Shell’s Polymers Monaca Plant during construction in 2018 (Photo by Jared Wickerham for Pittsburgh City Paper).
By Jamie Wiggan
PITTSBURGH — Shell has agreed to pay nearly $10 million in combined fines and community investments after acknowledging it has frequently exceeded emissions limitations at its Beaver County cracker plant since October 2022.
A consent agreement entered last week between Shell and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection requires the company to pay a civil penalty of $4,935,923, and an additional $5 million for projects “to benefit the environment, health and quality of life of the community near the facility.”
The sprawling plant in Potters Township, which opened last fall after years of construction, produces tiny plastics through a polymerization process. The facility is permitted by the DEP to generate 516 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds in a rolling year-long period, but has, since October, consistently exceeded these levels. It has similarly exceeded limits for carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, and other Hazardous Air Pollutants — known as HAPS — according to the agreement.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro suggested in a statement the agreement demonstrates his administration’s commitment to clean air.
“Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, and my Administration will hold all companies — no matter how big or small — accountable when they violate the laws and regulations protecting our air and water,” Shapiro said. “Shell recognizes that as a company, it must do better, and this $6.2 million commitment to the people of Western Pennsylvania is a down payment on that progress. My Administration will continue to work with Shell to ensure they live up to this agreement, and we will be prepared to hold them accountable for any future violations.”
Clifford Lau, a chemical engineer and clean air advocate, tells Pittsburgh City Paper fines like this, even if they continue, could simply be an accepted cost of business for a company like Shell that posts annual revenues in the hundreds of billions.
“$10 million is just chump change to them,” Lau says. “They really should be required to show they can operate safely before they can be allowed to operate.”
On the $5 million community investments pledged, Lau says it won’t do much to help anyone whose health has already been harmed by the facility.
“The people have already suffered through inhaling and contact with the stuff that they’re putting out of the plant,” Lau says. “The money that appears to be going to health can’t reverse what they’ve already been exposed to or will continually be exposed to until you get it, supposedly, under control.”
Jamie Wiggan is news editor at Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.
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