Flaring at two Shell facilities concerns residents; officials claim process upsets are the cause

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NEW ORLEANS, La. – Motiva Enterprise’s Convent refinery (partially owned by Shell) and Shell Chemical in St. Rose both experienced excessive flaring last night – one of which continues today. A citizen report filed on the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s Crisis Map shows the flare from the St. Rose facility burned so strong around 9 p.m., it was seen as far away as Kenner. That facility is still in the process of controlling the incident.

“We expect some elevated flaring while we are in the process of bringing one of our units online,” said Brian Allen, site supervisor for Shell Chemical, citing an informative flier he said was given out in neighborhoods around St. Rose. Allen could not speculate as to how long it would take for flaring to stop. 

At Motiva’s Convent refinery, a National Response Center report shows flaring started there at about 7 p.m. Monday due to a process upset. The emissions of sulfur dioxide exceeded the reportable quantity, the report said. This came in response to a citizen complaint stating that the refinery looked like it was on fire and emitting lots of smoke. See those NRC reports here and here.

An official at the Convent refinery claimed the situation was taken care of last night and flaring has stopped.

Allen said crews at the St. Rose facility were working quickly to prevent more product from escaping. Flaring occurs when the refinery has an upset or accident and excess chemicals are rerouted to the flare to be burned off. Refineries often claim the flare burns off 98-99 percent of all emissions, but studies show that’s a rough estimate based on perfect conditions and rarely on real-time monitoring. In most cases, a large percentage of chemicals are escaping the refinery and going into neighboring communities.

“Refineries need to invest in flare reduction programs in order to prevent people living nearby, especially the most vulnerable elderly and small children, from being exposed to toxic chemicals," said Anna Hrybyk, program manager for LABB.

For more on refinery accidents, check out LABB’s Refinery Efficiency Initiative’s Refinery Accident Database.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental health and justice organization supporting neighborhoods’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable communities free from industrial pollution.

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