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Shell Reports ‘Unplanned’ Flaring At Martinez Refinery

By John Donovan

According to  an article published on 25 February 2011 by The Wall Street Journal, Royal Dutch Shell Plc has recently reported “unplanned” flaring at its Martinez refinery in California.

Shell has a track record of illegal emissions at the refinery, paying fines totaling over $25 million since 1989.

On 1 December 1989, The New York Times reported that Shell Oil Company had agreed to pay $19.75 million “for spilling more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil into San Francisco Bay”. Shell said that it had “spent an additional $14 million in cleaning up the spill, when oil flowed from a pipe at its Martinez refinery in April 1988”. Oil leaked out from a 12.5-million-gallon storage tank at the manufacturing complex 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Government said that several Federal regulations were broken. According to the article at least 250 birds and 50 other animals were found dead and a valuable wildlife habitat was ruined and tidal marshlands would take 10 years to recover.

On 8 February 1995, an article in the The New York Times headlined “Shell Settles Dumping Suit for $3 Million” revealed that Shell Oil Company had agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that it had been “dumping illegal amounts of selenium into San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta”. As part of the settlement, Shell agreed “to reduce the selenium released in wastewater at its Martinez refinery”. The article said that selenium is a nutrient in small amounts but is toxic in larger doses. While admitting Shell had exceeded permitted limits, company officials claimed that the selenium discharges in the strait were not enough to harm the environment.

On 9 May 2007, the Houston Chronicle newspaper reported that Shell Oil Products, a subsidiary of Shell Oil Company, had been fined $2.9 million for equipment failure “that sent 925 tons of excess carbon monoxide into the air”. According to the article, “the pollution-causing emissions escaped the refinery in Martinez, California over the course of a week”. Karen M. Schkolnick, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, was quoted as saying that “The fine reflects the size of the incident and the fact that human errors compounded the situation” and that “It was a series of either bad judgements or mechanical failures and it led to this acute situation”. Steve Lesher, a spokesman for the Martinez refinery, was quoted as conceding that Shell had not contested the Air District’s claims, “but is proud of its pollution control record”. Lesher went on to say “We have rigorous maintenance standards, and you hope something like this never happens and you work to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

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