Prove your humanity

A problem with a compressor resulted in another episode of flaring at Shell’s Beaver County ethane cracker Tuesday night. The company says the flaring could last several days.

A video of the flaring posted to social media showed a large flame coming out of a tall flaring stack, with a hose spraying down what appeared to be a “hot spot”’ on the stack.

A company spokesman, Curtis Thomas, said in a statement Wednesday that using water to cool off the outside of a flaring stack is not uncommon. Thomas said the company has found a part of one of its flares that needs to be repaired. 

“We have identified some areas on one ground flare that will eventually be reinforced during a planned maintenance activity.  The site is designed to safely operate with one ground flare in service to support maintenance activities such as this,” Thomas said. 

Richard Russell of Brighton Township said he drove by the plant Wednesday morning and saw workers there spraying one of the plant’s stacks. 

“It did look like there was…a firefighting outfit dousing out the base of this stack. It looked like one of the panels was charred,” Russell said. 

He said the plant lit up the sky near his home the night before.  

“If you didn’t know any better, you might think that it’s daybreak or dusk,” Russell said. The flaring to me looks like something out of Dante’s Inferno. I mean, it just it looks surreal and like the sky is on fire.”

In western Pa., Shell flares burn bright after equipment malfunction at ethane cracker

Jamar Thrasher, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said Shell contacted DEP Tuesday night to report a malfunction and subsequent flaring as a result of a compressor failure at the plant.

“As a result of the compressor failure, Shell shut the process down and flared gas. The flaring is required when there is a malfunction. As part of Shell’s Plan Approval, the facility has 30 days from the incident to submit a full written report to DEP with all of the details,” Thrasher said, in an email. “DEP is evaluating the situation and will act accordingly.”

DEP has required Shell to report monthly emission data, which DEP has  posted to its website.

The plant opened in November. As it has come online, it has had several flaring events, where chemicals are burned off rather than vented directly into the atmosphere. Venting is also done to prevent explosions

In December, the DEP issued a notice of violation against the company, after the plant exceeded its yearly allotment for pollution after only a few months in operation. The DEP said that most of those emissions were a result of flaring. 

Two environmental groups have issued a legal document indicating their intent to sue the plant over its air quality violations

To build the plant, which makes plastic out of natural gas, Shell received $1.65 billion in tax credits from Pennsylvania. 

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.