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Shell’s Petrochemical Plant Fire: Another Hazardous Incident Exposes Shell’s Recklessness

Posted by John Donovan: 12 May 2023

Shell’s Deceptive Claims: Downplaying the Consequences of the Deer Park Fire

The recent inferno at Shell’s petrochemical plant in Deer Park unleashed a thick, black cloud of smoke that engulfed the Houston area, leaving experts to question the true extent of the damage caused.

Astonishingly, despite mounting evidence, the oil giant continues to deny any danger to the neighbouring community, conveniently sidestepping their responsibility. But this time, residents, advocates, and experts refuse to be fooled by their reassurances.

Joe Robles, a Deer Park resident who has endured multiple fires and explosions in the area’s petrochemical plants and refineries, expressed his frustration, stating, “I feel like that’s always the update.” Robles, like many others, has lost faith in the claims made by Shell, especially considering that experts have often determined the hazards to be significant only years later.

The fire, which lasted a staggering 70 hours, originated in the Shell plant’s olefins unit—a crucial component of petrochemical production responsible for breaking down gases into compounds used in various products. Instead of manufacturing final products, Shell ships the olefins to other manufacturers. The company’s coordinated response, backed by carefully worded news releases, insisted that air monitoring had not detected harmful chemical levels in neighboring communities. However, local advocates are sceptical and concerned about the transparency and accuracy of the monitoring and reporting processes.

Jennifer Hadayia, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, highlighted a glaring omission: the failure to monitor particulate matter, a dangerous pollutant that lodges into the lungs and cardiovascular system. While Shell claims to have monitored for certain known carcinogens, the potential risks posed by other emitted substances remain unknown. Dr. Pushan Jani, a pulmonologist at UTHealth, warned of the acute exacerbation of lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused by such air pollution.

Shell, predictably, has not released any specific test results to alleviate public concerns. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has shared some results indicating elevated levels of “volatile organic compounds” in adjacent areas like Cloverleaf and Northshore, albeit claiming they were not harmful. The absence of comprehensive data raises doubts about the true extent of the risks faced by the community.

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Vice President of Energy and Innovation at the University of Houston, acknowledged that air pollution may no longer be an immediate challenge for residents. However, he cautioned that extended exposure to the fire could have exposed locals to hydrocarbons, poorly burnt byproducts, and soot. Moreover, the water used to extinguish the fire, some of which ended up in the Houston Ship Channel, is likely to contain hydrocarbons and fire-extinguishing additives.

While Shell and state authorities claim to have collected discharge samples to monitor various parameters, they have yet to release the results. Shell’s response team spokesperson, Natalie Gunnell, stated that carbon levels had returned to an acceptable range. However, concerns persist about the impact of the fire on waterways, as runoff into the Houston Ship Channel could have introduced contaminants such as hydrocarbons and additives.

The use of booms to prevent the spread of contaminants on surface water offers some hope, but previous incidents have shown that booms are not foolproof. Contaminated water spilled into surrounding waterways during a controlled release scenario after the 2019 fire at the nearby Intercontinental Terminals Co. The precautionary measures claimed by Shell’s response team must be subject to scrutiny to ensure the safety of local water sources.

Ayanna Jolivet McCloud, executive director of Bayou City Waterkeeper, emphasized the need to consider both air and water quality in the aftermath of such disasters. While air pollution garners immediate attention due to its visible effects, the potential toxic releases and potentially lethal consequences for the local population may not be identified until much later.

Shell management has a track record of putting profits before safety, even of its own employees. Money before ethics. This is after all the company that financially supported Hitler. Google “Shell Nazi History”.

Shell is invited to point out for correction any factual inaccuracies and supply closing comments for publication as part of this article on an unedited basis. 

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