Shell spends $115mn to cut pollution at Texas refinery, chemical plant

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that Shell Oil has agreed to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at a large refinery and chemical plant in Deer Park, Texas, by spending at least $115 million (MM) to control harmful air pollution from industrial flares and other processes, and by paying a $2.6 MM civil penalty.

Shell has agreed to spend $1 MM on a system to monitor benzene levels at the fence line of the refinery and chemical plant. The fence line is located near a residential neighborhood and school. As part of the agreement, Shell will make the benzene level data available to the public via the web.

Shell will spend $100 MM on technology to reduce harmful air pollution from industrial flares, which are devices used to burn waste gases. Shell is required 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% efficiency.

Shell’s agreement to recover and recycle waste gases (flare gas recovery) at its chemical plant is the first of its kind.

Once fully implemented, the pollution controls required by the settlement will reduce harmful air emissions of sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds (including benzene) and other hazardous air pollutants, by an estimated 4,550 tpy. These controls will also reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by approximately 260,000 tpy.

The settlement was filed at the same time DOJ filed a complaint on behalf of the EPA alleging that the company improperly operated its 12 steam-assisted flaring devices in such a way that excess volatile organic compounds, including benzene and other hazardous air pollutants, were emitted.

In addition to reducing pollution from flares, Shell will significantly 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 MM and $60 MM.

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 operating in the vicinity of the Deer Park complex.

Shell, which is headquartered in Houston, processes approximately 330,000 bpd of crude oil at its Deer Park facility, making it the 11th largest refinery in the US. In addition, the Deer Park chemical plant produces approximately 8,000 tpd of products including ethylene, benzene, toluene, xylene, phenol and acetone.  

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