The state of Texas is suing British energy giant Shell over the three-day fire that broke out at the company’s Deer Park chemical plant in May, sending towering flames and massive plumes of black smoke into the air.
In the lawsuit, filed last week in Travis County and first reported Sunday by The Wall Street Journal, the Texas Attorney General accuses Shell of violating state environmental laws protecting the air and water. Texas is seeking damages of more than $1 million.
Lawyers for the state said “mass quantities” of unspecified contaminants were sent into the air due to the fire. They also argued the company and a neighboring refinery, Deer Park Refining Limited Partnership, sent 68.7 million gallons of wastewater used to fight the fire into the Houston Ship Channel and a stormwater pond.
In addition, the amount of treated wastewater dumped by Shell in response to the blaze exceeded its allowance under a state-issued permit, state officials said.
The massive fire started on May 5 and burned for nearly 72 hours after reigniting at least once. Shell has said the fire began when cracked heavy gas oil, cracked light gas oil and gasoline ignited in an area of the plant housing chemicals used to make plastic and rubber products.
The general manager of the facility previously said 15 people were evaluated at a hospital and released.
The fire raised air pollution concerns among Deer Park residents, though Shell and state officials repeatedly said at the time that air monitoring had not detected harmful levels of chemicals.
For many residents of the industrialized southeast Harris County city, the fire brought back memories of the Intercontinental Terminals Co. disaster in 2019, when chemical tanks caught fire and released the cancer-causing chemical benzene into the air.
The Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit against ITC days after the fire, making similar allegations of air pollution violations. The case is still pending.
Shell officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit Sunday.
Shell also faces lawsuits from at least two dozen employees and contractors who say they were injured and exposed to harmful chemical fumes during theMay fire, The Wall Street Journal reported.
No hearings have been scheduled in the state’s case.