Shell Puget Sound Refinery

A view of the Shell Puget Sound Refinery from across Padilla Bay.

Shell Oil Products U.S. has paid a $191,000 fine for the release of pollutants from its Shell Puget Sound Refinery in Skagit County nearly six years ago.

The fine comes through a legal settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to resolve violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

During refinery maintenance on Feb. 20, 2015, several operating procedures were violated, resulting in the release of about 700 pounds of pollutants including hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide, mercaptans, pyrophoric iron and benzene over a period of about 3 1/2 hours.

The emissions sickened many in surrounding areas, including on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation to the south, and some sought medical attention.

The settlement agreement, filed Dec. 29, says more than 550 people on the reservation and in surrounding areas were impacted by the emissions.

Swinomish tribal members and residents of the reservation reported symptoms including dizziness, coughing, eye and sinus irritation, throat irritation, nausea and gagging, headaches, breathing problems, and lung and chest pains.

“The health of the Swinomish Tribal Community is my top priority, and that starts with ensuring we all have clean air to breathe,” Swinomish Tribal Chairman Steve Edwards said in a news release welcoming the fine. “We are glad to see the EPA take action to hold Shell Oil accountable for its violations of air pollution laws.”

Shell has paid the penalty and corrected issues with its risk management plan and implementation to prevent, detect and minimize accidental air emissions, according to an EPA news release distributed Wednesday.

Combined with previous fines paid to the Northwest Clean Air Agency and the Washington Safety and Health Agency for violations of local and state regulations related to the February 2015 emissions, Shell has now paid about $600,000 for the incident.

A more recent emissions incident, on Sept. 29, 2020, remains under investigation by the Northwest Clean Air Agency.

Meanwhile, the Swinomish tribe has worked directly with the refinery to improve emergency notification in the event of future incidents.

“Thankfully, we are already making progress toward better emergency communication, and our greatest hope is that there are no more emergency chemical releases to report,” Edwards said in the release.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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