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‘Elevated flaring’ at Shell Norco plant — visible for miles — should end by midweek, company says

The unusually large streak of fire visible recently in the sky over St. Charles Parish should be gone within the next few days, according to a spokesman for Shell Oil Co.

For more than a week, the company’s Shell Norco complex has been in a state of “elevated flaring,” creating what at times has been a flare over its facility large enough that it can be seen for miles.

Shell has said the flaring — which can also be accompanied by loud rumbling noises — was necessary after the complex experienced a series of power dips as a line of storms moved through the area on Jan. 11.

“Last weekend’s weather system caused several of our units to be impacted,” the company said in a statement. It said Shell is still working to bring some of those units back online and that the flaring should end by “midweek.”

The flare is used to burn off excess gas, a spokesman said, though he did not specify what type of gas it was or why it needed to be burned off.

Most area residents don’t seem too concerned at this point. Dave Digirolamo, a board member of the Norco Civic Association, said, “With the amount of money that Shell’s put into this community, I can deal with a little rumbling every once in a while.”

He said he doesn’t know of any complaints from Norco residents.

However, environmentalist Wilma Subra said this amount of flaring shouldn’t be brushed aside.

“Flaring is supposed to be an emergency event rather than a normal operating event,” she said. “You have to do it rather than have something worse happen,” such as an explosion from a gas buildup.

The emissions from the flaring can carry “a lot of toxic material,” she added, with the foggy weather common over the past week only worsening the air quality.

Subra was also skeptical that it’s taken so long for the complex to recover from the Jan. 11 power issues, saying that petrochemical facilities in the past have used that as an excuse to burn off excess materials.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s online document system didn’t show any filings for the flaring when searched on Monday, a holiday. It could not be determined if the site is up to date.

As for Norco residents, who number around 3,000, Digirolamo said living near the Shell plant and dealing with its issues are just a part of life.

The community’s name itself is derived from the New Orleans Refining Co., which opened an oil refinery there in 1920.

“I made a decision to live here. The plant was here before,” he said.

Digirolamo added that although the flaring has gone on longer than usual and the rumbling can be “a little aggravating,” it’s “not like something that’s never happened before.”

According to Shell, its Norco refinery converts around 250,000 barrels of crude oil per day into products like gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. An adjacent chemical facility manufactures components of antifreeze, trash bags and laundry detergent, among other products.

The entire manufacturing complex employs about 1,200 workers and has a daily average of 1,000 contractors on the site, according to the company.

EMAIL NICK REIMANN AT [email protected].


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