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Cracker plant critics pleased with air pollution agreement

By Daveen Rae Kurutz [email protected]: 31 August 2017

POTTER TWP. — Local critics who wanted Shell Chemicals to increase monitoring of air pollution are pleased with a settlement agreement that will create a fence-line monitoring system.

Terrie Baumgardner, a member of the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Committee, said the move shows that Shell officials listened to the 750 people who signed a petition objecting to the lack of fence-line monitoring in Shell’s plan to build a $6 billion ethane cracker plant in Potter Township.

“I’m happy for the fact that Shell has responded to the voices of local citizens who were acting out of concern for air quality,” said Baumgardner, of Aliquippa. “Ideally, we would have clean energy that would not bring concerns into play at all. But I am happy that the citizens have had their voices heard.”

On Monday, Shell officials announced that they had signed a settlement agreement with the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project. Under the agreement, Shell will install and operate a fence-line monitoring program to ensure that any gasses or contaminants seeping out from the cracker plant’s boundaries remain at acceptable levels. The company will also increase the frequency of monitoring the plant’s flares and ensure it meets or exceeds the requirements of the Clean Air Act by destroying 98 percent of pollutants.

Joe Minnitte, a spokesman for Shell Chemicals, said the fence-line monitoring is in addition to other air pollution monitoring the company planned internally for the cracker plant.

“Fence-line monitoring is used at other (Shell) facilities but was not included in our permit due to the comprehensive internal monitoring Shell incorporated in the design,” Minnitte said. “In addition to the fence-line monitoring, Shell will have several hundred in situ gas and flame monitors along with a leak detection program monitoring over 70,000-plus components throughout the facility. This effort will utilize a combination of internal and external resources.”

Jack Manning, executive director of the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce, said he isn’t surprised by the agreement because the company has gone “above and beyond” on several issues.

“Shell never said they wouldn’t do it. They said they were open to it but needed to study how to best do it,” Manning said. “They’re also one of several companies to come out in favor of the Paris (climate) accord and to support its environmental goals. It reinforces their commitment to the community and their commitment to the environment.”

Jim Fabisiak, an associate professor of environmental and occupation health at the University of Pittsburgh, said the move was a “good compromise and a good place to start.”

In April, Fabisiak called on Shell to implement fence-line monitoring at the site to increase accountability for its contribution to air pollution. During that presentation in Beaver, Fabisiak said one ethane cracker plant’s emissions are equivalent to 36,000 automobiles each traveling 12,000 miles a year. Or in simpler terms, it would represent a 25 percent increase in traffic across the region.

“We can always go further to protect health,” he said this week. “Shell is doing the right thing by stepping up and being a partner with the community when it comes to the community’s concerns about health and more than just with jobs.”

Marcia Lehman, a member of the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Committee, said the agreement meets what residents were asking for, but would like to see Shell go above and beyond what the Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection require. She cited a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that questions EPA air pollution limits in terms of mortality and said that Shell and other energy companies should raise their standards even higher.

“If you’re a good neighbor, you need to go above and beyond what is required,” said Lehman, of Harmony Township. “The continuous monitoring system and extra safeguards around the flaring are absolutely essential. If other cracker plants come to the region, we’re going to have to fight air pollution. That’s when Shell becomes the paradigm for what we want in terms of air pollution controls.”

Lehman and Baumgardner said they want Shell to enact a citizen’s advisory committee to give residents a chance to weigh in on environmental concerns.

Minnitte did not comment on whether or not Shell would be open to their suggestion.

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