Shell’s massive petrochemical refinery near Pittsburgh has been plagued with problems since operations started in earnest in November 2022. Complaints from residents about foul odors emanating from the plant have multiplied and Shell faces a lawsuit linked to environmental issues. Meanwhile, the plant is currently shut down for repairs and will remain in shutdown mode for a few more weeks, a Shell spokesperson told media outlets.
The $6 billion facility “cracks” ethane extracted from the Marcellus Shale natural gas reservoir to produce polyethylene (PE). It is the first major PE manufacturing complex in the northeastern United States and, as reported in PlasticsToday when operations started, it is strategically located within a 700-mile radius of 70% of the US polyethylene market.
Last week, the Clean Air Council and Environmental Integrity Project filed a federal lawsuit accusing Shell of “repeatedly violating permitted air pollution limits,” reported local broadcaster WPXI. The suit also calls for a cessation of the “illegal release of smog-forming pollutants” and civil penalties of up to $140,000 per day, according to a report from AP News.
In early April, a “terrible odor” blanketed the area around the cracker, causing concern among residents as to what exactly they were breathing in, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A toxicologist hired by Shell said that the levels of benzene detected at the fence line of the facility were too low to be “associated with even transient discomfort or irritation.”
The current closure does not have a specific end date, with Shell only saying that it will be a matter of weeks, not months, that the plant will be offline. By the second half of this year — assuming no new problems emerge — Shell said that the plant will produce 3.5 billion pounds of PE annually.