Call for safe, sustainable energy after Engen refinery explosion

07 December 2020 - 16:18 By orrin singh
At least seven people were treated for smoke inhalation after the explosion and subsequent fire at the Engen oil refinery in Merewent, south of the city, on Friday.
At least seven people were treated for smoke inhalation after the explosion and subsequent fire at the Engen oil refinery in Merewent, south of the city, on Friday.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

The government is being urged to seek alternative energy solutions after the explosion at the country's second-biggest oil refinery in Durban.

At least seven people were treated for smoke inhalation after the explosion and subsequent fire at the Engen oil refinery in Merewent, south of the city, on Friday.

The South African Muslim Network (Samnet) is calling on environment, forestry and fisheries minister Barbara Creecy to explore ways for the country to transition from fossil fuel energy to safe and sustainable energy.

“Though the visible smoke is cleared from these fires, its pollutants still linger on - to the detriment of nearby communities and refinery workers. Many reports have indicated a correlation of breathing problems and toxic fume emissions in nearby communities,” said Samnet.

SA’s energy regulator took a step towards nuclear power on November 23 by inviting comment on the government’s plan to add 2,500MW in nuclear power to the energy mix.

Samnet believes this is a step in the wrong direction.

“When explosions in oil refineries and coal stations in SA plague us, we have to wonder whether nuclear energy is the best option for us — we shudder to think of an accident in a nuclear power station. Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power have great potential in SA. It is safer for our natural environment and safer for all living beings.”

Engen has had more than 35 fires, explosions and pipeline leaks. At this plant, this specific unit where the explosion happened on Friday has blown up [previously] ... this year alone.
Desmond D'Sa

Environmental activist Desmond D'Sa from the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) alleged that there had been other environmental mishaps at the 66-year-old refinery. He told TimesLIVE that the area which experienced an explosion on Friday, the northern complex of the plant, also had an incident during lockdown level 3.

“We celebrate 25 years of environmental justice in south Durban, we were formed on March 25 1995 so this year we're 25 years down. We've recorded Engen has had more than 35 fires, explosions and pipeline leaks. At this plant, this specific unit where the explosion happened on Friday has blown up [previously]. This year alone, at level 3 [of the lockdown] this unit blew up as well,” said D'Sa.

These allegations were put to Engen in an e-mail on Friday but the petroleum giant instead issued a blanket statement regarding the explosion.

Engen said the fire was out just over an hour after it started.

“The fire started at 7.08am and was extinguished at 8.45am. Engen wishes to confirm that no injuries were recorded. All refinery personnel have been accounted for.”

Engen said all refinery process units were safely shut down to ensure the plant remained completely safe while investigations into the cause of the explosion continued.

“Engen is assessing its overall bulk fuels supply and demand position and implementing immediate mitigations to manage inventory and product supply requirements. In these efforts, the needs of our customers remain our priority and are assured that the company is working hard to ensure secure supply of core petroleum products to the market.”

The company said it would continue to extend its full co-operation with authorities and government agencies in concluding the investigation into the incident.

“Our immediate priority remains the safety and wellbeing of employees and the neighbouring community.”

On Friday economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC Ravi Pillay  visited the scene of the explosion and met various stakeholders about the incident.

Pillay said government would monitor the situation carefully, adding that Creecy had contacted the province and dispatched experts from national government to provide support to teams investigating the matter.

“We do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation and we will keep the community and media updated. We have been assured that there is no risk of secondary fires and that the refinery has been shut down. They have also assured us that there is no risk of fuel shortages at this stage.”

Creecy's spokesperson Albi Modise said the department was working with the provincial department of economic development and tourism regarding the investigation.

Engen's oil refinery supplies 1,500 service stations in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

It has previously come under fire for emitting sulphur dioxide which is known to cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory system.

TimesLIVE


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