Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Earthworks Submits Video Evidence To DEP Of More Air Pollution Violations By Gas Flares At Shell Petrochemical Plant In Beaver County

On April 25,
Earthworks filed a formal environmental complaint with the Department of Environmental Protection with video evidence showing more air pollution violations by gas flares at the Shell Petrochemical Plant in Beaver County.

DEP acknowledged the complaint by email and said they were looking into it.

On April 13 and 14, Earthworks recorded video using an optical gas imaging camera showing evidence of significant incomplete combustion at one of Shell's ground flares.

The April 13 video was taken starting at 10:00 p.m. and the April 14 video was taken at several different times during the day.

Click Here to watch the Earthworks video.

“When you were looking at the ground flares with the naked eye you see nothing. And the assumption would be that the ground flares are operating at the efficiency that Shell has declared that they're operating at, which would be above 99%,” said Earthworks Pennsylvania Policy and Field Advocate Melissa Ostroff, the certified thermographer who captured the video.

“What we saw with the camera was a large plume of partially combusted emissions moving far off the grounds of the actual Shell facility,” said Ostroff.  “And with the wind direction, at least during one part of the day, moving in the direction of Beaver. And that kind of a plume coming from a flare, which is supposed to really burn off pollution, is not something we would want to see.” 

Ostroff said she used the optical gas imaging camera in its standard black and white mode to capture the images of gas emissions, but a portion of the video shows when she switched to a color mode that shows a temperature scale.

“[The temperature mode] shows that the plume, while there's a lot of heat at the source, as the plume goes further out, it actually is in line with the ambient temperature, showing that what we're looking at is not heat, but it's actually these uncombusted hydrocarbons,” explained Ostroff.

DEP’s Shell Complex webpage shows DEP inspected the Shell plant on April 10, April 12, April 13, April 18 and April 19 and found no violations, however, the inspection reports noted it was only a visual inspection for emissions.

DEP was also looking for evidence of malodors from an April 11 malfunction at the Shell Plant wastewater treatment system after that date.

Anais Peterson, also with Earthworks, said she and other members of the community filed complaints about odors and some health impacts with DEP starting April 11 through April 14, but it could have been related to the wastewater plant malfunction or the incomplete combustion from the flare or both.

Ostroff said DEP’s Pittsburgh Regional Office does have an optical gas imaging camera, but it is not clear when the inspection staff uses the camera.  Their inspection reports during April do not indicate they did.

It also isn’t clear whether Shell has optical gas imaging cameras at its plant or what information might be available from the use of the equipment.

“We can't make any general statement about how the flares are operating on a daily basis, or even a continual basis because unfortunately we are in a position of only being able to gather data relatively infrequently,” said Ostroff.   “And because Shell is not providing that information to the public about the efficiency of the flares and DEP is not doing inspections in a way that would be able to determine if the flares are running properly. 

“We're left in a somewhat ignorant position, I think, as the general public not knowing whether pollution is actually being burned off as it's intended by the flares or if it's actually going straight into the air and forming a plume like this over in Beaver,” said Ostroff.

DEP did issue a notice of violation to Shell on April 6 that included a statement DEP had not accepted flare testing Shell conducted in January to demonstrate whether its estimates of volatile organic compound emissions are in excess of permit limits.

Ostroff said Earthworks does plan to go back to the Shell Plant with its optical gas camera and do more surveillance video to check on emissions in the coming months.

She said at least one other group has similar plans to use the same equipment.

“[But], it’s not the continuous monitoring that we would love to be able to see [at the Plant],” said Ostroff.

Click Here to watch the Earthworks video.

Visit the Earthworks website for more information.

Visit DEP’s Shell Petrochemical Complex webpage for more information on reports and actions taken related to the plant.

May 3 Eyes On Shell Meeting

Eyes on Shell will host a May 3 online community meeting to provide updates on Shell Plant monitoring activities.

Click Here to register.

Visit the Eyes On Shell, Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community and Breathe Project websites for more information.

(Photos: Top- April 13 plain night view and with optical gas imaging; Bottom- April 14 plain daytime view and with optical gas imaging courtesy of Earthworks.)


-- Pittsburgh Business Times: Shell CEO Said Beaver County Petrochemical Plant Startup ‘Niggles’ Will Last Through 2023

-- WTAE Listens: Beaver County’s Shell Petrochemical Plant And Its Impact

Related Articles - Shell:

-- Eyes On Shell Reports Shell Petrochemical Plant Fenceline Monitors Found Benzene Emissions Above Toxic Substances Limits; No Timeline For Restarting Plant; DEP Issued Another NOV For Air Violations  [PaEN]

-- Groups Urge DEP To Temporarily Halt Operations At Shell Petrochemical Plant In Beaver County; File 2nd Notice Of Intent To Sue For Air Pollution Violations  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Groups File Notice Of Intent To Sue Shell Chemical For Air Pollution Violations At Its Petrochemical Plant In Beaver County  [PaEN]

-- DEP Issues Notice Of Violation To Shell Petrochemical Plant In Beaver County For Air Quality Violations In Sept. - Oct.  [PaEN]

-- Dramatic Video From Carnegie Mellon’s Project Breathe Shows Shell Ethane Plant In Beaver County Flaring Natural Gas Due To Malfunction  [PaEN]

-- Shell Petrochemical Plant Had 3-Hour Emergency Flaring Event To Burn Off Flammable Gases In Beaver County  [PaEN]

-- Beaver County Residents And Allies Launch New Shell Ethane Plant Accountability Campaign  [PaEN]

-- Guest Essay: Shell Petrochemical Plant Off To A Bad- And Dangerous- Start In Beaver County  [PaEN]

-- Intense, Bright White Light From The Shell Plastics Plant Turns Night Into Day For Many Neighbors Of The Beaver County Plant  [PaEN]

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[Posted: May 2, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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