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Dutch public prosecutor to sue Shell for explosion and toxic gas leak at Moerdijk plant

04 March 2019

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service announced on March 1 it would prosecute Royal Dutch Shell for an explosion in 2014 at its Moerdijk petrochemical plant and for the release of tonnes of carcinogenic ethylene oxide from the site in 2015 and 2016. According to the service, Shell did too little to prevent both incidents.

Moerdijk plant - Image: Shell
Moerdijk plant - Image: Shell

On June 3, 2014, a reactor at the Moerdijk plant exploded due to an unexpected reaction between substances. After a number of blasts, a large fire broke out, injuring two and causing millions of euros of damage. 

The Dutch Safety Board (Onderzoeksraad) investigation into the incident concluded that the company failed to “identify and control risks associated with plant modifications” and the potential for chemical reaction between the chemicals concerned.

The DSB also said that design data and knowledge was not translated into plant operating procedures, resulting in discrepancies that were not identified.

Another problem was that opportunities existed to stabilise or halt the process but they were not taken by operators.
Finally, Shell “failed to learn lessons from a previous incident” at a Shell joint venture facility in Nanhai, China in 2010.

In the second incident, in late January 2016 Shell Moerdijk discovered a leak of the carcinogenic ethylene oxide. By accidentally leaving a valve open, 27.7 tons of the toxic substance had been released into the air from 21 November 2015. In this case, the Dutch Safety Board concluded that the company made mistakes in its assessment of the safety risks. The measures to prevent and detect unplanned emissions were not sufficient.

The court case is expected to start on May 14.

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service also announced at the same time that Shell would be prosecuted for criminal charges relating to a $1.3 billion settlement for an oil exploration licence in Nigeria.

Shell and Italian oil firm Eni were accused of bribery in 2017 over a payment that secured an exploration licence for an oil block, known as OPL 245, in 2011. It was alleged that although the funds were paid to the Nigerian government, the money actually went to a former oil minister .

Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi and four ex-Shell managers are also facing charges of international corruption in Italy, where prosecutors allege they were aware that payments would be pocketed by individuals rather than the Nigerian government.

Shell and Eni have both denied any wrongdoing.


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