The fines are part of a settlement to resolve Shell’s alleged Clean Air Act violations in Deer Park, Texas. The EPA complaint alleged, among other things, that Shell improperly operated its 12 steam-assisted flaring devices in such a way that excess volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene and other hazardous air pollutants, were emitted.
In addition to spending at least $115 million to control air pollution from industrial flares and other processes, Shell has also agreed to pay a $2.6 million civil penalty and spend $1 million on a state-of-the-art system to monitor benzene levels at the fenceline of the refinery and chemical plant, which is located near a residential neighborhood and school. Shell will make the data available to the public through a website.
The settlement also requires Shell to take the following actions to improve flaring operations: minimize flaring by recovering and recycling waste gases (which may then be reused by Shell as a fuel or product); comply with limitations on how much waste gas can be burned in a flare (flare caps); and install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that gases that are sent to flares are burned with 98 percent efficiency.
Shell’s agreement to recover and recycle waste gases — flare gas recovery — at its chemical plant is a first of its kind, the EPA says.
Once fully implemented, the pollution controls required by the settlement will reduce harmful air emissions of sulfur dioxide, VOCs, including benzene, and other hazardous air pollutants by an estimated 4,550 tons or more per year, according to the EPA. These controls will also reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by approximately 260,000 tons per year.
In addition to reducing pollution from flares, Shell will modify its wastewater treatment plant; replace and repair tanks as necessary; inspect tanks biweekly with an infrared camera to better identify potential integrity problems that may lead to leaks; and implement enhanced monitoring and repair practices at the benzene production unit. When fully implemented, these specific projects are estimated to cost between $15 and $60 million, according to the EPA.
Also, in a second project to benefit the community, Shell has agreed to spend $200,000 on retrofit technology to reduce diesel emissions from government-owned vehicles that operate in the vicinity of the Deer Park complex.