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Shell Chemical LP - Norco, Louisiana Clean Air Act Settlement

(WASHINGTON - February 12, 2018) – The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) announced a settlement today with Shell Chemical LP that each year will eliminate more than 150 tons of excess emissions of harmful air pollutants from Shell’s chemical plant located in Norco, Louisiana, in St. Charles Parish. The settlement resolves allegations that Shell violated the Clean Air Act and State law by failing to properly operate industrial flares at the facility.

Overview of Company

The facility that is the subject of this settlement is a chemical plant located in the Norco, Louisiana. Shell Chemical LP is the entity that owns and/or operates the chemical plant. Shell Chemical LP is one of the largest petrochemical manufacturers in the world, producing over 20 billion pounds of chemicals annually, which are sold primarily to industrial markets in the United States. Its corporate headquarters is located in Houston, Texas.

The settlement involves the reduction of air pollution from four industrial flares at the Norco facility. A flare is a mechanical device, ordinarily with a flame elevated high off the ground, used to combust waste gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere during certain industrial processes.

Shell’s Norco facility is located approximately 20 miles northeast of New Orleans. The facility manufactures ethylene, propylene, and butadiene to sell to other manufacturers for use in the production of antifreeze, tires, plastic food containers, trash bags, laundry detergent, cosmetics, adhesives, coatings, and hundreds of other consumer and industrial materials and products. The facility operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

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The complaint alleges that Shell Chemical violated Clean Air Act (CAA) and regulatory requirements, which resulted in excess emissions of pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), various hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) including benzene, and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The allegations include violations of:

  • New Source Review/Prevention of Significant Deterioration (NSR/PSD) and Minor New Source Review, 40 C.F.R. Parts 51 and 52
  • New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), 40 C.F.R. Part 60, Subparts A, VVa and NNN.
  • National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), 40 C.F.R. Part 61, Subparts A and FF.
  • NESHAP, 40 C.F.R. Part 63, Subparts A, G, SS, and YY.
  • Title V and the Title V permits at the Norco facility.
  • Louisiana State Implementation Plan (SIP) requirements

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Injunctive Relief

The consent decree requires Shell Chemical to take the following actions to resolve the CAA claims:

  • Submit and implement waste gas minimization plans, which are detailed plans for reducing the amount of waste gas that will be sent to flares. 
  • Undertake a root cause analysis and implement corrective action for “reportable flaring incidents” (i.e., greater than 500,000 standard cubic feet per day waste gas flow above baseload flows).
  • Operate an existing flare gas recovery system at the facility.
  • The above flare gas recovery system must be available for operation a high percentage of time.
  • Install and operate flare monitoring and control equipment in order to assure high combustion efficiency at all flares subject to the settlement.
  • Operate fenceline monitoring stations to detect the presence of benzene from the Norco plant. Monitoring data will be made publicly available on the internet.

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Pollutant Impacts

  • Nitrogen Oxides – Nitrogen oxides (NOx) can cause ground-level ozone, acid rain, particulate matter, global warming, water quality deterioration, and visual impairment. Nitrogen oxides play a major role, with volatile organic chemicals, in the atmospheric reactions that produce ozone. Children, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are susceptible to adverse effects such as damage to lung tissue and reduction in lung function.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds – Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), along with NOx, play a major role in the atmospheric reactions that produce ozone, which is the primary constituent of smog. People with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are active can be affected when ozone levels are unhealthy. Ground-level ozone exposure is linked to a variety of short-term health problems, including lung irritation and difficulty breathing, as well as long-term problems, such as permanent lung damage from repeated exposure, aggravated asthma, reduced lung capacity, and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
  • Benzene – Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation, and, at high levels, unconsciousness. Chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure has caused various disorders in the blood, including reduced numbers of red blood cells and anemia in occupational settings. Reproductive effects have been reported for women exposed by inhalation to high levels, and adverse effects on the developing fetus have been observed in animal tests. Increased incidences of leukemia have been observed in humans occupationally exposed to benzene. EPA has classified benzene as a Group A human carcinogen.

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Health Effects and Environmental Benefits

When fully implemented, the new controls and requirements under the consent decree are estimated to reduce emissions as follows:

  • VOCs by 159 tons per year (tpy)
  • Hazardous Air Pollutants by 18 tpy
  • NOx by 2 tpy

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Civil Penalty

  • Shell Chemical will pay a civil penalty of $350,000.
  • Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will receive $87,500 of the civil penalty. 

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, is subject to a 30-day federal public comment period, a 45-day state public comment period, and final court approval.   Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice.  

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Contact Information

Robert Parrish
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2242A)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460-0001
(202) 564-6946

Patrick W. Foley
Senior Environmental Engineer
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2242A)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460-0001
(202) 564-7978

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