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Media Contact:

Justin Wasser, 202.753.7016, jwasser@earthworks.org

Beaver, PA – A significant pollution event at the Shell Plastics Plant captured by optical gas imaging video has yet to be reported by Shell Chemicals or the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to local communities. The video captured on April 13th & 14th, 2023 documents a major pollution event from an inefficient ground flare. It contradicts claims made by representatives of Shell numerous times, more recently at a virtual public meeting with Beaver County residents on Tuesday, April 25th. During that meeting, the company boasted that pollution controlling flares at the facility achieve greater than 99% efficiency.

“A faulty ground flare at the Shell plastic plant was releasing a large plume of potentially harmful hydrocarbons in the direction of nearby communities and was certainly not operating at 99% efficiency,” explains Earthworks Pennsylvania Policy and Field Advocate Melissa Ostroff, the certified thermographer who captured the video. “Without the optical gas imaging video making the pollution visible, the public would be completely unaware that this pollution is being released into their air.”

Optical gas images (OGI) of pollution from Shell’s plastic plant in Beaver County, PA. April 2023.

Flares are supposed to burn up hydrocarbons and reduce them. Hydrocarbons are invisible pollutants released by oil and gas operations and are often hazardous to health, carcinogenic, and have devastating impacts on our climate.

The video shows extremely poor destruction efficiency from the flare, causing pollutants to be expelled directly into the air and that the size and direction of the plume led to air contamination well beyond the borders of the Shell facility. Given publicly available information about the components of pollution emitted from the ground flare, it is likely that higher than permitted levels of benzene and other health-harming chemicals were released into the air during the time these videos were captured.

Shell’s 99% claims of ground flare pollution control efficiency come from a test conducted in January by Zeeco, the company that designed the ground flare. Shell and Zeeco claim these tests showed the flare successfully destroyed up to 99.55% of the emissions. DEP has called the test, “at present a novel, unproven technology.” Yet, Shell has used this figure to retract self-reported violations of permitted pollution limits and to reassure the public about the severity of pollution from the plastic plant.

“It is wrong to claim that efficiency of pollution controls at one moment in time guarantees efficiency of equipment at all times, especially when it comes to protecting public health, “said Ostroff. “Constant, transparent, and independently verifiable monitoring of flare efficiency is the only way to track public health threats from this kind of polluter. The best way to protect public health is to not permit polluting operations in the first place.”

This visual evidence is highly likely to further erode community trust in Shell and its confidence that the DEP is doing all it can to protect public health.

“For months Shell has been claiming to be a good neighbor in Beaver County and emphasized the safety and efficiency of its flares,” said Anaïs Peterson, Earthworks Petrochemical Organizer. “In reality, Shell is releasing harmful pollutants and exceeding multiple pollution limits. For almost six months Shell has been polluting Beaver County and the surrounding areas with no repercussions. DEP must take immediate proactive action and issue a halt in operations at the facility.” 

Shell’s admission of a benzene pollution release and recent reports of disturbing odors and health impacts from nearby residents in addition to several notices of violation from DEP continue to build pressure on the  DEP and Environmental Protection Department Region 3 to take bold action, not excluding a pause on all operations.