Enviro groups appeal air permit for Shell’s ethane cracker

  • Reid Frazier
Shell has proposed an ethane cracker in Beaver County.

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Shell has proposed an ethane cracker in Beaver County.

Environmental groups are appealing the air quality permit state regulators gave Shell for its proposed ethane cracker petrochemical plant in Beaver County.

The appeal is before the state’s Environmental Hearing Board. A hearing date has not been set.

The groups are arguing the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) should have required more stringent monitoring requirements for fugitive air emissions from Shell for its proposed facility. The plant would take natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales and convert it into the building blocks of plastics.

In June, the DEP approved Shell’s air quality permit, which is required because the Pittsburgh region fails to meet federal air quality standards. The agency said in a report on air quality that Shell’s plant indicate it wouldn’t violate any of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

“Both Shell and DEP missed an opportunity to ensure residents are adequately protected from this large source of pollution,” said Joe Minott, executive director of Clean Air Council, one of the groups appealing the permit.

In particular, Minott says the DEP should have required the plant install ‘fence-line’ monitoring of the cracker to detect emissions that could be escaping the plant’s network of pipes.

Shell was ordered by the EPA to spend $1 million on such monitoring at its Deer Park petrochemical plant in Houston, as part of an agreement over that plant’s air violations.

“Shell is using fence-line monitoring at some of its other plants. I’m bewildered as to why they wouldn’t do it for residents in Pennsylvania,” Minott said.

The cracker would be one of the Pittsburgh region’s largest sources of volatile organic compounds, a key component of ground-level ozone, or smog.

Because Pittsburgh does not meet the EPA’s ozone standard, Shell has agreed to buy pollution offsets in the area as part of its permit.

In an emailed statement, company spokeswoman Kimberly Windon said:

“We appreciate that some groups often times file appeals to such permit decisions.  We believe the concerns raised were addressed during the Plan Approval process and we look forward to resolving this appeal in the most expeditious manner possible.”

Citing litigation, DEP spokesman John Poister said the agency would not comment on the case.

Shell has purchased the property in Potter Township and has done some preparation work, but has not yet decided on whether to build the plant.