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Dutch Public Prosecution Service demands maximum fine against Shell for explosion at Moerdijk

According to the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, an explosion at Shell Moerdijk was the result of ‘disturbing’ negligence on the part of the company. According to the court, the Shell Chemical Nederland criminal record has twelve pages of convictions and settlements of environmental violations. 

Printed below is an English translation of an article published today by the Dutch FT, Financieele Dagblad.

OM demands maximum fine against Shell for explosion at Moerdijk

Vasco van der Boon: 15 MAY 2019


According to the court, the Shell Chemical Nederland criminal record has twelve pages of convictions and settlements of environmental violations. Photo: Dijkstra

The Public Prosecution Service (OM) demands a maximum possible fine of € 2.68 million against Shell Chemie Nederland. According to the OM, an explosion at Shell Moerdijk was the result of ‘disturbing’ negligence on the part of the company. The chemical group was, the OM further states, “considerably careless.” “Leading in chemistry, but not leading in safety.” That appeared on Tuesday at the session in the court of Den Bosch.

In the court case, the OM suspects Shell of deliberately placing on or in the soil, in the air or in the surface water of a substance that has endangered public health. The explosion took place in a Shell Moerdijk factory in June 2014, after which a major fire broke out. Two employees were burned. There was a lot of nuisance for local residents and there was damage for millions of euros.

Danger to life

In addition, the OM accused Shell RDSA of € 28.63-0.26% that in 2015 and 2016 the gas ethylene oxide could escape at Shell Moerdijk for months. According to the OM, the company has intentionally or criminally culpably put people at risk. “No accidental deaths occurred,” the officer said. “Shell has crawled through the eye.”

Director Richard Zwinkels of Shell Moerdijk said Tuesday at the start of the criminal case at the court in Den Bosch that for Shell “it is paramount that the incidents should have been prevented. We are very sorry about what happened. ”

Shell denies intent

Zwinkels: “I understand very well that we must be accountable in court. But that does not mean that we agree with all the criminal charges of the public prosecutor. We fight that deliberate action has been taken. ”

The OM has previously called Shell a “repeat offender” because the company has repeatedly violated safety and environmental regulations. The Dutch Safety Board has already expressed its surprise that Shell Moerdijk did not comply with internal procedures.

12 pages criminal record

According to the court, the Shell Chemical Nederland criminal record has twelve pages of convictions and settlements of environmental violations. “Could that give the impression that Shell is less careful with the rules?” Asks the court president. “That is very short because of the bend,” replies Zwinkels. The Shell director calls improving safety a continuous learning process.

A corporate film that Shell showed the court says that the causes of the explosion are “technically and chemically complex.” According to Shell, research has shown that the explosion was caused by an “unexpected and unforeseen reaction” of chemicals in the factory during the production of styrene – a raw material for plastic.

“Unexpected reactions”

The first phase of the production consisted of heating up the installation and chemicals. According to the regulations quoted by the court, heating at 30 degrees per hour was the norm. Zwinkels says that Shell heated up at 50 degrees per hour as standard. Shell Moerdijk went unnoticed by the operating staff 80 degrees per hour warmer.

Zwinkels speaks of “unexpected reactions” of chromium-6 and ethylbenzene to “a runaway” in the reactor. The explosion took place during a restart of the factory in Moerdijk.

According to the OM, Shell ignored multiple signals for the risks of the production process at Moerdijk. No lessons were learned from an earlier incident at a similar Shell Asian plant. According to the OM, Shell changed a crucial ingredient in the production process in Moerdijk without the prescribed risk analysis.

Five years later

When asked by the court chairperson about the impact of the blow, Zwinkels says that “the largest number of employees has overcome the shock five years later”. Following the explosion, Shell has adjusted its operations at the Moerdijk complex.

According to Zwinkels, the explosion is not due to the mistakes of individual employees. The OM speaks of a ‘system error’ by Shell. According to Zwinkels, those involved have been made redundant due to gas leaks in 2015 and 2016. According to the OM, Shell wrongly gives them the black pete: “How royal is that?”

The lawyers at Shell will speak on Thursday. The court expects to give a judgment on 7 June.

SOURCE

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