Shell flares a large percentage of its gas causing grave harm to the people of the Niger- Delta.
Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell, has agreed to spend at least $115 million to control harmful air pollution from industrial flares and other processes, after admitting violations of the Clean Air Act at a large refinery and chemical plant in Deer Park, Texas, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, announced Wednesday.
The oil giant also agreed to pay a $2.6 million civil penalty and spend $1 million on a state-of-the-art system to monitor benzene levels at the fenceline of the refinery and chemical plant near a residential neighbourhood and school and to make the data available to the public through a website.
“This agreement will bring Shell Oil’s refinery and chemical plant in Deer Park into compliance with the nation’s Clean Air Act and result in cleaner, healthier air for residents in the local communities for many years to come,” Acting Assistant Attorney General, Robert Dreher, of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said.
Shell agreed to the settlement despite continued high level pollutions in Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta area that have continued for years.
The Shell Petroleum Development Company is the largest oil and gas company in Nigeria with an estimated output of more than one million barrels of oil or equivalent per day.
In 2012, Shell reported 198 oil spills at its facilities in the Niger Delta that spilled around 26,000 barrels of oil. It blamed only 37 of the incidents on operational failure and the rest on sabotage.
But activists in the Niger Delta say Shell under reports the amount of crude oil spilled.
A United Nation Environmental Program report in 2011 estimated that it will take 30 years for Ogoniland community – where Shell no longer operates – in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region to recover from years of oil pollution primarily by Shell at an initial cost of $1 billion.
In the Deer Park settlement, Shell will spend $100 million on innovative technology – devices used to burn waste gases – to reduce harmful air pollution from industrial flares. The oil giant is also required to take several actions to actions to improve flaring operations.
The agreement requires Shell to install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that gases that are sent to flares are burned with 98 per cent efficiency.
In addition to reducing pollution from flares in Deer Park, Shell will significantly modify its wastewater treatment plant; replace and repair tanks as necessary; inspect tanks biweekly with an infrared camera to better identify potential integrity problems that may lead to leaks; and implement enhanced monitoring and repair practices at the benzene production unit.
“When fully implemented, these specific projects are estimated to cost between $15 and $60 million,” the U.S. EPA said.
In Nigeria, activists say Shell is responsible for more than 50 per cent of flares in the Niger Delta region, while flaring about 100 per cent of its gas.
“Shell has repeatedly ignored court ruling outlawing gas flaring in Nigeria,” a Niger Delta activist, Ken Henshaw said. “Shell is responsible for the bulk sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and and other hazardous air pollutants in the Niger Delta.”
“They (Shell) should be paying one hundred times more in Nigeria,” Mr. Henshaw said, re-awakening Niger Delta activists’ demands that Shell in Nigeria should be held to the same standard as elsewhere in the world.
Although Shell often admits oil pollutions in Nigeria, blaming some on sabotage of its facilities, the Nigerian government is unable to confine Shell to its laws or enforce regulations and fines on it.
Activists argue that Nigeria’s environmental laws are deliberately skewed in favour of oil companies, leaving Niger Delta residents to grapple with polluted air and water.
A Wikileak revelation in 2009 quoted Shell officials as saying they had an eye in every Nigerian government office.
“There is no difference between the Nigerian government and Shell, they are in bed,” Mr. Henshaw said.
Wednesday’s settlement with the American government is part of EPA’s national effort to reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants, with a particular focus on industrial flares.
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