Beaver County residents call on leaders to make changes at Shell Polymers Plant

BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. — Beaver County residents want to see the cracker plant shut down until a list of problems is addressed. They took their concerns to county commissioners, who said they share many of the same concerns, but their hands are tied.

“I think they need to be held accountable, and they need to either stop production or reduce the emissions,” said Natalie Leslie. “It’s just not safe for the environment here.”

Natalie Leslie is from Chippewa Township. She says she’s been following the development of the cracker plant since she was in middle school. She’s in college now at Penn State.

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“It’s really infuriating to see the Shell plant taking over our lives and our environment with no regard to humans or the community here,” said Leslie. “Our environment is deteriorating, and they don’t seem to care at all. It’s just really disheartening to see.”

She joined a group of people in the park across from the Beaver County Courthouse. They shared stories about how the cracker plant is polluting the air and adversely impacting their health.

“Growing up along the Ohio River with all the energy plants and other plants along the river, the area has always jokingly been known as ‘cancer valley,’” said Amanda Kemmer. “The number of cancer clusters in young adults is astounding. Myself included.”

Then, they made their way over to the courthouse for the county commissioners’ regular meeting. For more than an hour, they expressed their concerns.

“We as residents expect better notification,” said one resident. “Expect better communication, and we’re asking you to participate in that so that it can happen.”

Better air monitoring and real-time notifications of emissions are two demands listed on a petition with more than 60,000 signatures.

A Shell spokesperson says it has not received the petition yet.

“We respect people’s right to express their point of view and welcome any constructive engagement on our practices,” said Shell Spokesperson Curtis Thomas. “After making significant improvements that will help us operate more effectively and safely, the SPM plant has resumed production. We’ve learned from previous issues and we will continue to report out and comply with all regulations while also applying lessons learned and best practices to ensure our operations have the least amount of negative impact on people and the environment.”

County commissioners say they don’t have the authority to regulate Shell or its plant.

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“We’re on the phone with the cracker plant every other week trying to get updates,” said Beaver County Commissioner Tony Amadio. “But what you have to understand is the county commissioners do not have the jurisdiction or the ability other than to do what you’re doing right now. Open support. We don’t have the essence of the law. That’s on a state and federal level.”

“The people who can hold them accountable are the state regulators and the federal regulators who permit them to operate that plant,” said Beaver County Commissioner Jack Manning. “We’ve had conversations with the DEP. We’ve had conversations with Shell. We’ve let them know our disappointment. I will defend the industry, but I can’t defend how they’ve started out.”

The plant started operations in November 2022 and has been cited numerous times by state regulators. Most recently Shell had to pay a $10 million fine to the Department of Environmental Protection and local communities. Residents say they’re still waiting to find out how that money will be spent.

“We can’t even get answers on what’s being done with the fines from Norfolk Southern let alone the fines from Shell Petrochemical,” said Beaver County Commissioner Chairman Daniel Camp. “Those fines, when they say they’re coming to Beaver County, that doesn’t mean they’re coming to this board of commissioners. They’re going to the Governor’s Office. They’re going to the DEP, and they’re going to regulate what they’re going to do with that $10 million even though the $6 million is supposed to come back to Beaver County, we don’t know how. We’ve said our peace. We want live air quality monitoring not only in the one-mile radius but throughout the whole county and throughout the Southwestern region it would have to be an organized plan.”

County commissioners concluded by saying they’re open to a town hall and that their job is to bring everyone to the table including representatives from Shell and the DEP.

“We hold well-publicized virtual Town Hall meetings,” said Thomas. “The last one was April 24th, and we had a record number of community attendees. We will continue our commitment to have these meetings on a regular basis. We answer questions from the public, and during several of these meetings, including the last one, had an extensive conversation about Shell’s emergency response plans and the way we would work with local emergency response coordinators in the event of an emergency.”

To sign the petition, click here.

DEP Regional Communications Manager Lauren Camarda sent Channel 11 the following statement:

“Shell is paying one of the largest civil penalties in Pennsylvania history – and it is a direct result of Governor Shapiro and this Administration taking action to hold Shell accountable and deliver real results for Western Pennsylvania. This the multi-million dollar payment secured by the Shapiro Administration is going to provide real help for affected Pennsylvania communities. The COA with Shell includes $5 million set aside for projects to benefit community environment and health. DEP is  developing a protocol for selecting projects and recipients. DEP plans to make this protocol, the selected projects, and additional related information available to the public through its community information webpage.

Separate from the mitigation project, the COA includes a civil penalty assessment. Act 57 requires, under certain conditions, 25 percent of an air pollution fine or civil penalty collected by DEP, which is at least $50,000.00, to be returned to the municipality in which the violation occurred to be used for projects that eliminate or reduce air pollution or for parks, recreation projects, trails or open space. Potter Township may be eligible to receive a return of 25 percent of the Act 57-eligible portion of the $4,935,023.00 a penalty, which is $1,233,755.75. On June 1, 2023, DEP notified Potter Township of its right and that it must submit a project proposal to DEP within 180 days. More information can be found in the letter issued by DEP: DEP Letter

DEP has not yet received a proposal.”

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