The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Shell Oil and its affiliates have agreed to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at a large refinery and chemical plant in Deer Park, Texas, by spending at least $115 million to control air pollution from industrial flares and other processes. Shell Oil and its affiliates also will pay a $2.6 million civil penalty. Shell has agreed to spend $1 million on a state-of-the-art system to monitor benzene levels at the fenceline of the refinery and chemical plant, which is near a residential neighborhood and school, and to make the data available to the public through a website.
Shell will reduce air pollution from industrial flares, which are devices used to burn waste gases. Under the agreement, the company will improve flaring operations, minimize flaring by recovering and recycling waste gases (which may then be reused by Shell as a fuel or product), comply with limitations on how much waste gas can be burned in a flare (flare caps), and install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that gases that are sent to flares are burned with 98 percent efficiency. Shell’s agreement to recover and recycle waste gases (flare gas recovery) at its chemical plant is a first of its kind.
Once fully implemented, the pollution controls required by the settlement will reduce air emissions of sulfur dioxide; volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene; and other air pollutants by at least an estimated 4,550 tons per year. These controls will also reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by approximately 260,000 tons per year.
“The innovative emission controls required by today’s settlement will cut harmful air pollution in communities near Houston,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case is part of EPA’s nationwide enforcement effort to protect fenceline neighborhoods by significantly reducing toxic pollution from flares and making information about pollution quickly available to affected communities.”
“This settlement will result in substantial reductions in toxic air pollution through state of the art technology and increased efficiencies at the Deer Park plant,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement will bring Shell Oil’s refinery and chemical plant in Deer Park into compliance with the nation’s Clean Air Act.” The settlement was filed at the same time the DOJ filed a complaint on behalf of the EPA alleging, among other things, that Shell improperly operated its 12 steam-assisted flaring devices that led to excess VOC and pollutant emissions.
In addition to reducing pollution from flares, Shell will significantly modify its wastewater treatment plant, replace and repair tanks as necessary, inspect tanks biweekly with an infrared camera to better identify potential integrity problems that may lead to leaks, and implement enhanced monitoring and repair practices at the benzene production unit. When fully implemented, these specific projects are estimated to cost between $15 and $60 million.
Also, in a second project to benefit the community, Shell has agreed to spend $200,000 on retrofit technology to reduce diesel emissions from government-owned vehicles which operate in the vicinity of the Deer Park complex.
The settlement is part of EPA’s national effort to reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants, with a particular focus on industrial flares. These requirements focus on reducing the amount of waste gas sent to flares and on improving flare operations, both of which work to reduce toxic emissions. The EPA wants companies to flare less, and when they do flare, to fully burn the chemicals found in the waste gas.
Shell, headquartered in Houston, processes approximately 330,000 barrels per day of crude oil at its Deer Park facility, making it the 11th largest refinery in the U.S. In addition, the Deer Park chemical plant produces approximately 8,000 tons per day of products that include ethylene, benzene, toluene, xylene, phenol, and acetone. Both the chemical plant and the refinery operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
More information about the settlement is located at www.epa.gov/enforcement/air/cases/sdp.html.
More information about EPA’s Air Toxics National Enforcement Initiative is located at
Prior enforcement settlements related to industrial flaring were made with BP North America, Marathon Petroleum Company, and CountryMark Refining and Logistics.