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Shell to invest $115 million to reduce air pollution around Houston

July 16, 2013
KEYWORDS air pollution / EPA / Shell
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U.S. oil giant Shell will have to invest $115 million to control harmful air pollution from industrial flares and other processes at its Deer Park refinery in Texas, under the terms of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The company will also pay a $2.6 million civil penalty, the EPA said.

The agreement was reached following a complaint filed by the DOJ in behalf of the EPA, claiming that Shell exerted inadequate control over its flaring devices, allowing excess volatile organic compounds, including benzene and other hazardous air pollutants, to be emitted.

Shell Oil has agreed to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act by spending the money on better pollution control, including fitting the facility with a $1 million system for monitoring benzene levels at the fence line of the refinery and chemical plant. The fence line is located near a residential neighborhood and school and, as part of the agreement, Shell will make the benzene level data available to the public online.

A further $100 million will be spent on technology to reduce harmful air pollution from industrial flares -- devices used to burn waste gases. The company is required to take several steps to improve flaring operations. First of all, Shell will have to reduce flaring by focusing on recovering and recycling waste gases. The company will also have to comply with imposed flare caps, which are restrictions on the maximum amount of waste gas that can be burnt in a flare. Under the settlement, Shell will also install instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that gases sent to flares are burned with 98 percent efficiency. The agreement to recover and recycle waste gases at its chemical plant is unique for the industry, the EPA explained.

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The agency estimated that when all of the aforementioned steps have been implemented, harmful air emissions of sulfur dioxide, benzene and other hazardous air pollutants will be decreased by approximately 4,550 tons per year. Furthermore, improved controls will also lead to a reduction of greenhouse gases emissions of about 260,000 tons per year.

Reducing pollution from flares is not the only focus of the settlement. In addition to that, Shell will also upgrade its wastewater treatment plant, replace and repair tanks where necessary, inspect tanks once every two weeks with an infrared camera to spot integrity problems that might result in leaks and implement improved monitoring and repair practices at the benzene production unit. When all of these have been implemented, the total cost for Shell is estimated to be between $15 million and $60 million.

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, commented that the innovative control systems that the settlement requires will significantly reduce air pollution for communities around Houston. This agreement is a part of the EPA's ongoing effort to ensure better protection for fenceline neighborhoods by reducing toxic pollution from flares and allowing the public to access information about pollution in their area, she stated.
 

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