Shell settles federal air pollution charges from Deer Park plant

Shell Oil and affiliated partnerships agreed to spend at least $115 million to resolve federal air pollution charges stemming from flaring and other activities at its Deer Park, Tex., refinery and chemical plant near Houston, the US Department of Justice and US Environmental Protection Agency jointly announced.

They said the US subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC also agreed to pay a $2.6 million fine, spend $1 million on a state-of-the-art system to monitor benzene levels at the facility’s fence line near a residential neighborhood and school, and make the data publicly available online.

Shell will spend $100 million to control emissions from industrial flares at the installation, DOJ and EPA said. Specifically, it will take steps to recover and recycle waste gases (which it can then reuse as a fuel or other product), limit how much waste gas can be flared, and install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that gases sent to flares are burned with 98% efficiency.

The tentative agreement, which was filed July 10 in US District Court for Southern Texas and won’t become final for another 30 days, includes a provision to recover flared gas from a chemical plant that is the first of its kind, the two federal entities said.

They estimated that when fully implemented, the flaring controls required under the settlement will reduce air emissions of sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds (including benzene, and other hazardous air pollutants) by an estimated 4,550 tons/year or more. The controls also will cut greenhouse gas emissions at the installation by some 260,000 tons/year, DOJ and EPA added.

They said Shell also agreed to spend $15-60 million to modify its Deer Park wastewater treatment plant; replace and repair tanks as necessary; inspect tanks biweekly with an infrared camera to better identify potential integrity problems that could lead to leaks; and implement enhanced monitoring and repair practices at the benzene production unit.

The company also committed to spend $200,000 to retrofit government-owned vehicles and reduce diesel emissions in the Deer Park complex’s vicinity, according to DOJ and EPA.

A Shell spokeswoman said the proposed settlement is consistent with the Deer Park installation’s objectives and ongoing activities to reduce emissions at the site, and upgrade its flaring infrastructure.

“In particular, we are pleased that part of the agreement will include an allocation of funds to benefit our community through the retrofitting of school buses with emissions-reduction technology,” she told OGJ in a July 11 e-mail.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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