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EPA Again Fines Shell for Stormwater Violations in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, September 3, 2009 (ENS) – For the second time in less than a year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited Shell Chemical Yabucoa in Puerto Rico for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

For this most recent violation, EPA has issued both a complaint – in which it has proposed a penalty of $153,057 – and a compliance order.

The complaint alleges that Shell violated the Clean Water Act by improperly maintaining its deep ocean outfall equipment and discharging unauthorized pollutants. The compliance order requires Shell to remedy those violations.

Shell Chemical Yabucoa (Photo by Arturo Diaz)

“Water is central to the health of Puerto Rico’s economy and its people, and Shell’s violation of the Clean Water Act is unacceptable,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou in New York. “EPA will continue to hold accountable anyone who violates the laws that protect Puerto Rico’s valuable waters.”

Shell’s petrochemical facility, located in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, has a permit from EPA to discharge treated stormwater, wastewater, and sewage-related wastewater under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

Shell’s permit allows it to discharge from a deep ocean outfall, which discharges by utilizing a multi-port diffuser – a pipe with multiple openings that aids in the dilution of pollutants.

But the complaint alleges that Shell violated the permit in two ways – the company unlawfully discharged pollutants into navigable waters for 14 days without authorization – and also Shell did not properly operate and maintain the diffuser pipeline for 105 days.

According to the complaint, Shell admitted that a leak from its diffuser pipeline began on or about February 25, 2009, and claimed that it stopped discharging from the pipe on March 2.

But the corporation later reported that it discharged through the pipeline during 14 days from February 27 to March 30 as well.

Shell’s alleged failure to properly maintain the diffuser pipeline is not an isolated incident; the most recent penalty is in addition to a penalty of $1,025,000 Shell paid in May for similar violations.

A report issued on December 31, 2008, indicated that two or three of Shell’s diffuser ports were totally covered by sand. Blockage by sand can prevent dilution of pollutants and cause a violation of water quality standards.

EPA issued an Administrative Compliance Order in March that required Shell to submit a plan to repair the leak and properly operate all ports of the diffuser.

Despite the Order, Shell failed to properly operate and maintain the diffuser from at least December 31, 2008 to April 15, 2009. That failure, in conjunction with the unauthorized discharges in February and March, led EPA to issue this most recent complaint.

In January, during the last week of the Bush administration, Shell settled allegations of water pollution from the Yabucoa plant by paying a fine of just over $1 million and pledging to spend at least $273,800 enhancing its pollution controls and monitoring to remedy the Clean Water Act violations.

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