The Sierra Club and Environment Texas have announced that the suit they filed in January 2008, against Shell Oil Company and two of its affiliates, is on its way to settlement.
If judges approve the settlement, Shell Oil Company will owe $5.8 million for past violations, establishing a record as the largest environmental citizen suit penalty in the state.
"Shell has been a good example, or maybe you could say a bad example, of the problems that industrial plants in Texas have in upsets," said Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air program director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. ("Upset" events are things such as equipment breakdowns, malfunctions, and other non-routine incidents.)
"We urge other oil and chemical companies in the region to take note of Shell's willingness to work constructively with us in developing solutions to the problems at the Deer Park facility -- problems that are not unique to Shell," Carman said in a press release.
Although it needs the final OK from U.S. District Judge David Hittner, the team of citizen groups seem confident that Shell will be paying its dues and making changes.
Shell's Deer Park facility will need to take several actions, as highlighted in a Sierra Club press release:
• Monetary penalties for failures to meet pollution reduction benchmarks;
• Plant upgrades to cut emissions from the most heavily used chemical plant flare, and to reduce routine flaring throughout the complex;
• Plant upgrades to cut emissions from the Coker Unit at the refinery and from storage tanks throughout the complex;
• Enhanced monitoring of benzene emissions.
• A mandatory 80% reduction in "upset" emissions within three years (a cut of approximately 750,000 pounds per year compared to recent levels);
Upset emissions are to be reported by Texas companies within 24 hours, or they face penalties; however, the system seems flawed from the start.
There was no agency involvement regarding an enforcement review or any kind of health-effects review, and yet these facilities like the Shell Deer Park citizen suit reported millions of pounds of illegal emissions, Carman told HairBalls.
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A former state official, inspecting refineries, petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities for over 12 years, Carman said there has been a reporting system state-wide since the 1970s. But for over 30 years, all the companies had to do was make a telephone report, followed by a written letter, and there was no consequence of enforcement unless people complained.
The Deer Park facility has been accused of violating more than a thousand Clean Air Act violations since 2003. Paying the price for having released nearly five million pounds of pollutants into the air, the $5.8 million in settlement money will go to retrofitting or replacing polluting diesel school buses, help fund the East Harris County Solar Energy Pilot Program, and provide funds for the Ozone Theater Project to educate children about air pollution.
The groups did send in a notice of intent to Lyondell Chemical Company as well for its Houston facility, but that litigation was put on hold since the company declared bankruptcy, Josh Kratka, lawyer with the National Environmental law center, told HairBalls.
Guess they won't be shelling out millions in apologetic funds any time soon.