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Shell Settles Texas Air Pollution Claims

The oil company Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday that it had reached a $5.8 million settlement over claims of air pollution at its Deer Park refinery near Houston.

The proposed settlement would require Shell to reduce emissions from air pollutants from its plant by 80 percent within three years, upgrade chemical units and reduce gas flaring.

The agreement is subject to review by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department. It must also be approved by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where the complaint was filed.

Shell was sued last year by Environment Texas Citizen Lobby and the Sierra Club, claiming violations of the Clean Air Act. The suit contended there had been more than a thousand instances of illegal pollution at the plant since 2003, releasing a total of five million pounds of air pollutants into the atmosphere, including toxic chemicals like benzene and 1,3-butadiene, as well as sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.

The agreement focuses on reducing “upset emissions,” which are defined as excess emissions occurring outside of routine operations, like equipment breaking down or malfunctioning, and which are not authorized by permit. Shell said the terms of the settlement were “consistent with Shell Deer Park’s objectives and prior activities to reduce upset emissions at the site.”
The Deer Park refinery, a 1,500-acre complex on the Houston Ship Channel, about 20 miles from downtown Houston, is the nation’s eighth-largest oil refinery and one of the world’s largest producers of petrochemicals.

The facility is also the third-largest stationary source of air pollution in Harris County, which ranks among the worst in the nation in several measures of air quality, according to the environmental groups.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said the settlement could provide a new benchmark for operations in the petroleum and refining sector. “Shell will set an example for the rest of the industry that you can control these emissions,” Mr. Metzger said. “We can exert some pressure for the rest of the industry to similarly start to comply.”
The penalty will be used to finance environmental, public health and education projects in Harris County, including a project to reduce diesel emissions from school buses, and another to install solar panels on public buildings, according to a copy of the settlement.

“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,” Neil Carman, a clean air specialist at the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

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