Shell agrees to pay $10 million for air pollution at a massive new petrochemical plant in Pennsylvania

Shell has agreed to pay $10 million to settle allegations it polluted the air around a massive new petrochemical refinery in western Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration announced Wednesday.

Shell has acknowledged that the plant, located along the Ohio River about 30 miles (48 kilometers) outside of Pittsburgh, violated air emissions limits, officials said. The multi-billion dollar facility opened in Novemberonly to be shut down months later after the company said it had identified a problem with a system designed to burn off unwanted gases.

Shell said it had made repairs and plans to restart the plant on Wednesday.

Under an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Shell Chemicals Appalachia LLC — a subsidiary of British oil and gas giant Shell plc — will pay a civil penalty of about $5 million, part of which will go towards environmental projects in Beaver County. The company will transfer a total of $6.2 million to the community, according to state officials.

Rich Negrin, the state’s acting environment secretary, said in a written statement that Pennsylvania is “taking steps to hold Shell accountable and protect Pennsylvania’s constitutional right to clean air and water while encouraging innovation and economic development in the Commonwealth.”

The plant uses ethane from a huge shale gas reservoir under Pennsylvania and neighboring states to make polyethylene, a plastic used in everything from consumer and food packaging to tires. At full capacity, the plant is expected to produce 3.5 billion pounds (1.6 billion kilograms) of polyethylene annually. Shell had expected to spend $6 billion on the refinery, which took years to build.

Environmental groups fought the plant predicting it would generate more plastic pollution, as well as the smog-forming compounds and greenhouse gases that warm the planet. The Clean Air Council sued Shell earlier this month.

Environmentalists likened the penalty announced on Wednesday to a parking ticket, which will have little impact on Shell’s bottom line.

said Andy Gray, who lives 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from the Shell plant and is part of the Eyes on Shell watchdog group.

“There is ample evidence that Shell has no desire to protect this community,” Gray said.

Shell said it is using the best technology available to try to reduce air pollution.

“We have learned from past cases and remain committed to protecting people and the environment, as well as being a responsible neighbour,” said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith on Wednesday.

The plant exceeded 12-month emission limits for volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and other hazardous pollutants, according to state regulators. The state said Shell also violated restrictions on visible emissions from its flares, allowed foul odors to be released from a sewage treatment plant, and committed other violations.

Shell has warned that it will continue to exceed air emissions limits through the fall as the plant ramps up production. You will be required to pay additional civil penalties for any future violations.

The CEO of Shell Wael Sawan had thrown the problems as expected “technical vibrations”.

The plant’s start-up phase “was slower than we had hoped,” Sawan said on a conference call with analysts earlier this month. “But the team does a great job fighting some of the obvious technical problems that startups often face.”

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