Beginning Tuesday, March 14, 2023, Eyes On Shell watchdogs reported loud noises, bright lights, a large orange glow, hoses at the West ground flares and multi hour flaring events at the Shell Plastics Plant in Beaver County, PA. We have compiled this information with data from the PA DEP, Shell fence line monitoring data, media reports, Shell employees, and watchdog reports.
As disruptive incidents continue to occur at the Shell Plastics Plant and more information is gathered about the flaring events, including the malfunctions of the past week, we maintain that our community requires access to real time information about what is happening at the plant. The community deserves the ability to make informed decisions to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
Here’s what we know:
Incidents and Data
Multiple reports of multi hour flaring events from the ground flares (two 'soupcans' and 'stove top') and emergency flare at the plant since March 14th.
Shell had a major flaring event for at least 4 hours from its West ground flare (C205B) the evening of March 14th into March 15th however the air monitoring from the plant shows that there was more going on than just the flare.
Continuous Ambient Monitoring Station (CAMS) data from the plant show that VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions began increasing around 1pm on March 14th.
VOCs emissions continued to increase until 7:45am on March 15th with a gradual fall until it abruptly measured at 0 PPM at 9am.
CAMS data also shows that around midnight / 1am on March 14th VOCs levels were very high.
Peak was 558 PPB (parts per billion)
On March 14th Shell temporarily shut down the ethane cracking furnaces.
On March 14th a compressor tripped resulting in Shell having to flare.
This means that the compressor stopped compressing so the ethylene took up a huge volume of space so Shell burned it off.
Shell flared for hours the evening of March 16th from both ground flares on the West side and was once again spraying the hotspot on the C205B flare.
Watchdogs also reported flaring from the ‘stove top’ flare on the East side of the plant the morning of March 17th.
CAMS 3 which picked up the VOCs increase on March 14th doesn’t have a capture trip, which means right now all we are getting from this monitor is total VOCs.
Other CAMS on the Shell site have trips and back in February they were tripped.
Without a trip, this monitor does not use a summa canister and we do not get a breakdown of what VOCs are in the air.
Hosing / Hotspot
During the March 14th flaring event Shell developed a hotspot on and began hosing water on one of the enclosed ground flares (C205B).
Shell was using water to cool the exterior shell of the ground flare to eliminate a hotspot created by an insulation refracting defect.
News outlets have confirmed that Shell was still hosing down the ground flare the next day.
Shell’s internal emergency response team responded to the hotspot on the flare.
We do not know what material the flare is made from so we can not confirm reports that the ground flare was melting, but as you heat metal up it has the potential to warp.
The hoses on the flare is a temporary measure until the flare can be taken out of service for maintenance.
Shell is waiting until a scheduled maintenance shut down to fix the malfunctioning flare and is continuing to use the equipment in the interim.
It is anticipated the water used to hose the flare will eventually flow out of Shell’s stormwater outfall
This discharge is meant to be monitored by Shell before it comes out the outfall.
PA DEP / Reporting
There was a malfunction at the plant on March 14th.
Shell called the PA DEP the morning of March 15th to give a preliminary notice of malfunction and Shell has up to 30 days to submit a malfunction report.
Shell has been taking the full 30 days to submit malfunction reports. Once the report is submitted the community continues to wait days and in some instances, weeks for the PA DEP to post the reports for the public.
The PA DEP was at the plant to do an inspection on March 15th and March 16th. These inspection reports should be posted to the Shell PA DEP page and have not as of March 20, 2023.
When the PADEP does an inspection of the plant they look for visible emissions, fugitive emissions and malodors but they stated they do not take samples or use any equipment.
Questions we still have:
Why is Shell continuing to flare from an enclosed ground flare that has a hotspot?
Was Shell flaring during the day on March 15th? If not, why was Shell hosing a piece of equipment on the ground flare that should have been cool?
What efficiency were all/any of the flares operating at?
Will the DEP be taking samples or bringing out equipment such as FLIR cameras for future inspections?
Shell Continuous Air Monitoring Data: https://www.shell.us/about-us/projects-and-locations/shell-polymers/fenceline-monitoring-flm-program/continuous-air-monitoring-system-data.html
Credit: Eyes On Shell/do not use without permission