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EPA cites Merit and Shell for clean-air violations

Release Date: 10/04/2005
Contact Information:

CONTACT: William Omohundro, (312) 353-8254

For Immediate Release
No. 05-OPA205

CHICAGO (Oct. 4, 2005) — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 has cited Merit Energy Co. and Shell Exploration & Production Co. for alleged clean-air violations at a sour gas processing plant in Manistee, Mich. The plant, formerly owned by Shell, is now owned and operated by Merit.

EPA alleges that from 1996 through 2000 Shell modified the plant significantly increasing sulfur dioxide emissions without getting a permit requiring emission controls to prevent deterioration of air quality. EPA also alleges that a sulfur dioxide impact analysis was not completed before the plant was modified.

"EPA's mission is to protect public health and the environment," said Regional Administrator Thomas V. Skinner. "We will take whatever steps are needed to ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act."

These are preliminary findings of violations. To resolve them, EPA may issue a compliance order, assess an administrative penalty or bring suit against the company. Merit and Shell have 30 days from receipt of the notice to meet with EPA to discuss resolving the allegations.

Sour gas is natural gas containing hydrogen sulfide. Removal of the hydrogen sulfide produces sulfur dioxide as a byproduct. Exposure to sulfur dioxide can impair breathing, aggravate existing respiratory diseases like bronchitis and reduce the ability of the lungs to clear foreign particles. Sulfur dioxide can also cause acid rain and contribute to fine particle pollution. Children, the elderly and people with existing heart and lung conditions are the most sensitive to sulfur dioxide.