• The facility opened in November 2022 and quickly crossed the permitted emission levels
  • Shell closed the plant to repair its flares and wastewater treatment systems, which were blamed for the emissions
  • The $6 billion plant can produce 3.5 billion pounds of polyethylene every year when at full capacity
  • A Shell spokesperson said the facility is expected to resume operations this week

Shell Chemical Appalachia has agreed to pay $10 million after its multibillion-dollar facility in western Pennsylvania exceeded the permitted emission levels.

The massive petrochemical complex in Potter Township had its shutters down for about two months as Shell made repairs to its flares and wastewater treatment systems, which were blamed for polluting the air and releasing foul odors in Beaver County communities, according to Pittsburg Post-Gazette.

Shell Chemicals Appalachia LLC — a subsidiary of British oil and gas giant Shell plc — has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $4,935,023 (a quarter of which will be directed to local communities) and an additional $5 million for environmental projects to benefit the local communities. Hence, a total of $6.2 million would be directed toward projects that "benefit the environment, health and quality of life of the community near the facility," Gov. Josh Shapiro said in a Wednesday statement.

"Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, and my Administration will hold all companies — no matter how big or small — accountable when they violate the laws and regulations protecting our air and water," the governor noted.

The facility, which opened in November 2022, uses ethane from a vast shale gas reservoir underneath Pennsylvania and surrounding states to produce the most commonly used plastic — polyethylene.

Shell took years to build the $6 billion plant that can produce up to 3.5 billion pounds (1.6 billion kilograms) of polyethylene every year.

The plant shut down within months because it quickly crossed the permitted emission levels for volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hazardous air pollutants.

Curtis Thomas, a spokesperson for Shell, said the plant will restart its operations this week following repairs.

Some saw Wednesday's announcement about the penalty as a way of holding Shell accountable while others felt it is barely a slap on the wrist.

"We know that Shell can operate a state-of-the-art facility that helps grow our economy without harming the environment, and we are going to hold them to the requirements laid out in their permits," Rich Negrin, acting secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said, as per Pittsburg Post-Gazette. "We are going to make sure that they are good neighbors to this community."

The Breathe Project, an environmental nonprofit, compared the amount of the penalty to the price of a parking ticket issued to an average household in Beaver County.

"We cannot allow another entity to engage in pay-to-pollute behavior that comes at the expense of our region's residents and allow the fines to be perceived as charitable donations to our communities," Matthew Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project, said, according to the outlet.

"The overwhelming and toxic pollution residents have been exposed to has already harmed this community — there is no price tag that will allow for this to be acceptable," Andie Grey, who lives 3 miles away from the Shell refinery, told AP News.

"There is ample evidence Shell has no desire to protect this community," Grey, who is also part of the Eyes on Shell watchdog group, added.

A view shows a logo of Shell petrol station in South East London