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Flaring emissions dominate pollution from Beaver County’s Shell plant

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Flaring emissions dominate pollution from Beaver County’s Shell plant

September was a tumultuous month for the Shell chemical plant in Beaver County.

On Sept. 3, a missing O-ring in a circulation pump led to a leak of isobutane vapor. Two days later, brown emissions were seen coming out of high pressure ground flares — two metal combustion chambers that burn off unwanted gasses from the ethane cracker.

Three days after that, two separate flanges leaked hydrocarbons, and an ethylene refrigerant compressor tripped after it registered a high dew-point temperature. It tripped again two days later because of high vibration, which cascaded into a trip of several other systems.

On Sept.15, a calibration error caused a trip of the cracked gas compressor. In another three days, the propane refrigeration compressor stopped; three days after that, high methanol levels in the acetylene reactor caused that equipment to malfunction.

In December, the DEP said it was investigating Shell’s start-up process and its exceedance of its permit, which sets a rolling 12-month limit on emissions of certain pollutants.

When it was all done, Shell estimates it released two tons of benzene, a carcinogen that can also cause temporary health impacts from short-term exposure.

This event more than doubled Shell’s emissions of hazardous air pollutants in 2022, according to its monthly figures, which do not include the last two months of the year.

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