Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Environmental Groups File Appeal of Ethane Cracker Plant Permit

On August 3, 2015, the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project filed an appeal to the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) over the issuance of a permit by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to Shell Chemical Appalachia for the construction of an ethane cracker plant in Beaver County.  The plant proposes to breaks down ethane, a gas that is extracted in the Marcellus region, into smaller molecules to create ethylene which is a compound used in the production of plastics.  Shell was issued its permit on June 18, 2015, and the grant of the permit was officially announced in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on July 4th, 2015.

The environmental groups oppose the issuance of the permit because they claim the DEP “failed to comply with the minimum requirements of the Federal Clean Air Act” for a location that is not meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).  The DEP is responsible for implementing the Federal Clean Air Act and related regulations. 

The appellants more specifically contend that the permit is legally deficient because the plant does not plan to meet the emission standards of the lowest achievable emissions rate (LAER) which is required in an area that is not meeting the (NAAQS).  LAER is used by the EPA to determine if emissions from a chemical plant or other stationary source are acceptable under the State Implementation Plan.  The State Implementation Plan is a state’s plan for complying with the Clean Air Act so that air pollution will be reduced in that particular state by a predetermined amount. 

The advocacy groups further allege that the permit does not “include federally enforceable limits for volatile organic compounds for the flare.”  Volatile organic compounds are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. 

Overall, the environmental advocacy groups contend that the administered permit will not adequately protect the atmosphere by limiting and monitoring the emissions of the ethane cracker plant.  The EHB issued a prehearing order on August 4, 2015.  Discovery from both sides is due on February 1, 2016.  

Written by Stephen Kenney - Research Assistant
Center for Agricultural and Shale Law
August 5, 2015

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