petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic
Shell's new petrochemical complex in southwestern Pennsylvania. (Credit: Nate Smallwood for Environmental Health News and Sierra Magazine)

Shell must seek a new air pollution permit for its Pennsylvania plastics plant

For nearly a year and a half the company has been operating under a construction permit. Now, the plant will be subjected to federal Clean Air Act laws.

PITTSBURGH — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is requiring Shell Chemical Appalachia to submit a new air pollution permit for its massive petrochemical plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, which will subject the plant to more regulatory oversight than it’s been operating under.


The company began operations in November 2022, but has continued operating under its initial construction and temporary operating permit.

The plant emits enough air pollution that it is considered a “major polluter” under the federal Clean Air Act, so it must submit a Title V operating permit. These permits require companies to certify their compliance with federal clean air laws at least annually and provide guidelines for state and local regulatory agencies to issue notifications and fines when companies violate the conditions of their permits.

Shell has a June 21, 2024 deadline to submit the permit application. Once submitted, the DEP must issue or deny the permit within 18 months. As part of this process, there’s typically a public hearing and a 30-day public comment period.

Health and environmental advocates applauded the move, saying it will give nearby communities more information and avenues to hold the plant accountable for pollution.

“Since its opening in late 2022, Shell’s Beaver County plastics plant has been a serial lawbreaker, illegally emitting many tons of pollution into the air we breathe,” said Alex Bomstein, Clean Air Council executive director, in a statement. “DEP’s order to Shell to apply for a Title V Operating Permit for its plant sets up the public and our environment with better protection from harmful pollution, and allows the public to file comments and petition the EPA to object to any potential shortcomings in the resulting permit.”

Within a few months of starting up, Shell’s Pennsylvania plastics plant was fined more than $10 million for exceeding its annual pollution limits for volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and other hazardous air pollutants.

Exposure to these pollutants is associated with a long list of negative health effects including dizziness, nausea, respiratory and heart disease, and higher cancer risk. The plant was also cited for discharging benzene, a carcinogen, into the Ohio River, which provides drinking water to about five million people.

Local environmental health advocates requested that the public hearing for the permit happen in person rather than virtually. One local advocacy group, the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community (BCMAC), sent the DEP a letter asking the agency to publish Shell’s permit application online for the community to review.

"We're working with local, regional and national partners who have the legal and technical experience with Title V permits to ensure that Beaver County residents will be accurately informed every step of the way," said Hilary O’Toole, executive director of BCMAC, in a statement. “We will be scheduling meetings and educational events throughout Beaver County to engage municipal leaders and community members.”

Biden administration green-lights massive oil terminal
Credit: FracTracker Alliance/Flickr

Biden administration green-lights massive oil terminal, sparking backlash

The Biden administration has sanctioned a vast oil terminal off Texas, drawing ire from environmentalists.

Matthew Daly reports for the Associated Press.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
Ocean temperatures continue to set daily records
Credit: Pexels/Pixabay

Ocean temperatures continue to set daily records

Record-breaking ocean temperatures are prompting scientists to explore underlying causes and potential impacts.

Delger Erdenesanaa reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less

Freshwater supplies dwindling due to human activity, studies find

Two significant studies reveal how human demand and technological advancements are rapidly depleting the planet's freshwater resources.

Andrew Nikiforuk reports for The Tyee.

Keep reading...Show less

Wild fish host new viruses, including a coronavirus cousin

Researchers have detected multiple new viruses in wild sport fish in Wisconsin, revealing a surprising diversity of pathogens.

Danielle Kaeding reports for Wisconsin Public Radio.

Keep reading...Show less
global health climate impacts
Credit: AlexMax/BigStock Photo ID: 18840950

Climate change impacts immune health globally, leading to an epidemic of diseases

The invisible effects of climate change are disrupting our bodies, notably our immune systems, by contributing to a surge in immune-mediated diseases like allergies and cancer.

Kari Nadeau reports for STAT.

Keep reading...Show less

Economic and environmental strain affects rural Mississippi amid renewable energy push

Economic challenges and environmental worries collide as Mississippi towns turn to the burgeoning wood pellet industry in a bid to revive local economies.

Alex Rozier reports for Mississippi Today.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
plastic treaty

Groups push Biden administration to take leadership role at upcoming plastic treaty talks

The US has taken a “middle of the road position” so far, environmental groups say.

chemical recycling Youngstown

Listen: Why communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are fighting chemical recycling plants

EHN reporter Kristina Marusic discusses her new three-part series on the controversies surrounding chemical recycling.

chemical recycling

Latest chemical recycling plant closing spurs concern over the industry’s viability

Oregon’s Regenyx plant announced its closing in late February, with those involved calling it a success, despite never reaching planned capacity and millions of dollars lost.

plastic treaty

Everything you need to know for the fourth round of global plastic pollution treaty talks

Countries will meet this month in Ottawa to move forward on the historic treaty — but obstacles remain.

zero waste business

Zero- and low-waste businesses band together against plastic pollution

As part of a national coalition, sustainable businesses are pooling resources to fight plastic pollution.

chemical recycling

Residents fear Pennsylvania, West Virginia chemical recycling proposals will deepen fossil fuel ties and pollution problems

"We’d like to be talking about positive things, focusing on our renewable energy future.”

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.