Shell has agreed to pay $10 million to settle allegations that it polluted the air around its new petrochemical refinery in western Pennsylvania.

The facility, which opened in November, had to be shut down months later due to the company’s identification of a problem with a system designed to burn off unwanted gases. Shell acknowledged that the plant violated air emissions limits, with state regulators reporting that it exceeded rolling 12-month emission limits for volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other hazardous pollutants.

The state also found that Shell violated limits on visible emissions from its flares, allowed foul odors to be released by its wastewater treatment plant, and committed other violations.

Under an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Shell Chemicals Appalachia LLC – a subsidiary of British oil and gas giant Shell plc – will pay a civil penalty of around $5 million, with $6.2 million to be used for environmental projects in Beaver County.

While the settlement marks a significant step in holding Shell accountable for its pollution, environmentalists argue that the penalty is insufficient and liken it to a parking ticket.

They predict that the facility will generate more plastic pollution and compounds that form smog and planet-warming greenhouse gases.

The plant uses ethane from a vast shale gas reservoir underneath Pennsylvania and surrounding states to make polyethylene, a plastic used in everything from consumer and food packaging to tires.

At full capacity, the plant is expected to produce 3.5 billion pounds (1.6billion kilograms) of polyethylene annually. Shell had projected to spend $6 billion on the refinery, which took years to build.

The settlement with Shell comes amid growing concerns over the environmental impact of petrochemical refineries, which emit toxic pollutants that can harm human health and contribute to climate change.

Environmental advocates argue that Shell’s penalty is not enough to address the significant and long-term harm caused by the facility’s emissions. They also criticize the company’s lack of commitment to protecting the community and the environment.

Despite the settlement, Shell remains committed to using the best available technologies to minimize air pollution. The company has repaired the problematic system and plans to restart the plant soon. However, state regulators warn that the plant will continue to exceed air emissions limits through the fall as it ramps up production.

Shell will be required to pay additional civil penalties for any future violations.

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro expressed satisfaction with the settlement, stating it was a step toward holding Shell accountable and protecting Pennsylvanians’ constitutional right to clean air and water while encouraging innovation and economic development in the commonwealth.

In conclusion, while the settlement represents a significant victory for environmental advocates, it highlights the need for stricter regulations and enforcement to ensure that petrochemical refineries operate in an environmentally responsible manner.

The settlement also underscores the importance of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.