BEAVER, Pa. — In November 2022, Shell Polymers Monaca, the region’s first ethane cracker plant, began operations producing plastic products in Potter Township, Pennsylvania.
One year later, on Nov. 15, residents and environmental advocates gathered in nearby Beaver’s Irvine Park to discuss the several violations Shell received over their first year of operations, saying Shell isn’t a good neighbor.
“Neighbors do not harm their communities. Neighbors do not ignore their communities. Neighbors do not fail to communicate. They are not untruthful — good neighbors, that is. Good neighbors do not do these things,” said Daniel Rossi-Keen, the executive director of RiverWise, a community organization that gives a voice to residents, communities and organizations in Beaver County.
One year later
On Wednesday morning, one sign stood out in the middle of residential and environmental speakers, listing all of the violations and chemical releases Shell has committed over their first year of operations.
The sign states Shell’s plant has had: 26 malfunctions, 13 notices of violations, 12 months of illegal Volatile Organic Compound emissions, 11 months of Hazardous Air Pollutant emissions, 11 months of Nitrogen Oxide emissions, 10 months of illegal Carbon Monoxide emissions, a 9-day Benzne release, at least two multi-hour emissions (one lasting 65 hours) and 2 water permit violations.
According to residents and environmental activists, Shell often fails to notify residents of loud events and chemical releases.
In its first month of operation last year, Shell nearly exceeded its entire 12-month emissions limit of VOCs, emitting approximately 512 tons out of a maximum of 516 tons.
After lawsuits from several environmental organizations, in May, Shell was ordered to pay $10 million to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and nearby communities.
However, speakers at the rally said this is not enough as continued violations harm their air, water and soil health.
Residents talked about how Shell has impacted their lives. Skyler Brimmeier said he constantly smells burning plastic and hears loud booms frequently that startle him and his family.
“Half my family has moved out of Vanport in recent months because of Shell’s presence,” Brimmeier said.
Others have concerns about the future with Shell after what they experienced from the fiery February train derailment and subsequent chemical burnoff in East Palestine, Ohio, near the border of Pennsylvania.
Christina Siceloff lives in rural South Beaver Township, about 6 miles southeast of the derailment site and 10 miles northwest of the Shell plant.
Since the derailment, she and her family have experienced frequent health issues. They’ve also had 8 cats die from seizures, and a chicken from unknown causes. Her family refuses to eat eggs from her chicken coop anymore after seeing deformed and squishy eggs.
Siceloff spoke at the event, saying she’s afraid Shell will repeat history.
“Shell uses a lot of the same chemicals that we’ve been exposed to during the train derailment,” she said. “A lot of the chemicals that come by train do go to Shell, so who’s to say that something isn’t going to happen down there with the same kind of chemicals.”
A new report from the Ohio River Valley Institute, an environmental think tank, measured the economics of Beaver Country from 2012, when Shell first announced the plant, to November 2022, when the plant came online.
The report found that gross domestic product, population and employment have declined since 2012.
It points to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages that say Beaver County lost 10% of its jobs while the state as a whole grew by 5%. The report also states GPD decreased by nearly 6% and the population declined by 2%.
The report noted that this year was not included in the data, so the actual job loss could be much worse as the county lost thousands of temporary jobs associated with the construction of the cracker plant.
Shell currently employs 600 people at the Shell Polymers Monaca facility.
Over the past year, the company has shared on social media several community projects and charitable events they have organized, including sponsoring Convoy of Hope, a program to feed families in need, and a Shell volunteer group that did river cleanup in the Ohio River in June.
Shell released a statement in response to the rally saying, “Safety is our top priority. Safety for our workers, the community and the environment. Shell is committed to complying with all local, state and federal regulations. We have worked in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to address plant issues that led to prior violations.”
(Reporter Liz Partsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-337-3419.)
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!