PublicSource asked the state Department of Environmental Protection about its plans for monitoring Shell’s new Potter Township petrochemical cracker. Here are the basics, per DEP Community Relations Coordinator Lauren Camarda.

Shell is required to monitor the plant’s emissions daily, according to Camarda. The company must also report all emergencies and malfunctions that add to emissions and fix leaking pipes, valves and other components. If Shell doesn’t fulfill its responsibilities, it could face legal sanctions.

The company’s pollution monitoring equipment must be tested and calibrated by a third party, and the data supplied to DEP, which reviews and approves them. 

That said, the agency won’t rely on the company.

“DEP expects that its representatives will frequently be on site at the Shell facility to evaluate air quality,” according to Camarda. Federal guidance allows DEP to take as much as three years to complete full compliance inspections of facilities the size of the cracker plant, as long as it conducts frequent on-site “partial compliance evaluation” visits, she wrote.

DEP already has air monitoring stations in Beaver Falls, Beaver Valley, Brighton Township, Hookstown, Potter Township and Vanport, and plans to place one in Beaver Borough. The agency monitors for pollutants listed in the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards and some monitors also capture air toxics and volatile organic compounds. Data from DEP monitors statewide is available here.

Where do average citizens fit in?

DEP responds to every complaint it receives, but won’t necessarily see something posted on social media. The agency urges citizens who see environmental concerns or pollution events to capture the date, time, location and description, plus photos or video if possible, and promptly call the regional office at 412-442-4000, use the toll-free number 866-255-5158 or report via its website. 

Complaints, she wrote, “may also result in partial inspections, and DEP has the authority to physically inspect the facility at any time,” or to demand Shell’s records.

While DEP is aware of “increased interest” in citizen data collection, it must follow state and federal rules when pursuing enforcement actions, and those require “rigorous quality assurance/quality control requirements,” according to Camarda. The agency is also awaiting findings from a variety of federal citizen science initiatives.

Quinn Glabicki is the environment and climate reporter at PublicSource and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at quinn@publicsource.org and on twitter and instagram @quinnglabicki.

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s managing editor. He can be reached at rich@publicsource.org or on Twitter @richelord.

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Quinn Glabicki

Quinn Glabicki is a writer and photographer covering climate and environment for PublicSource. He is also a Report for America corps member. Quinn uses visual and written mediums to tell stories about...

Rich is the managing editor of PublicSource. He joined the team in 2020, serving as a reporter focused on housing and economic development and an assistant editor. He reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...