Court okays refinery demo

2008-04-01 00:00

A High court decision to allow the South Durban community and students from the University of KZN to protest outside the gates of the Engen oil refinery has been described as "a slap in the face" for eThekwini municipal manager Dr Michael Sutcliffe and the Durban Metro Police, and a "victory for democracy".

The original idea was to use April 1 "as a fun way to convey a serious message" that residents will no longer tolerate the growing numbers of fires and explosions at the refinery and increasing health problems, including cancer and asthma.

The joke turned sour, however, when Engen declared that the protest was illegal in terms of the National Key Points Act and met with Durban Metro Police and the Saps to stop the demonstration. The would-be protesters then turned to the court.

South Durban Environmental Alliance spokesman Desmond D’Sa said yesterday that the protesters are demanding the relocation of the refinery because of the large numbers of explosions and fires — seven last year and four so far this year — as well as health concerns.

"Until it moves, we want the refinery to put together a budget to reduce emissions," he said.

In a statement yesterday, Engen spokesman Herb Payne said that "in the spirit of the occasion" Engen is willing to receive a memorandum from the students. He was not aware of the high court application.

Payne said the refinery is committed to being a good, caring neighbour and is continuously improving its environmental footprint. It also fully complies with its scheduled trade permit limitations that were generally equal to European standards.

He said emissions are monitored by eThekwini Municipality under the South Durban Multipoint Plan and by Engen itself.

"These intensive levels of monitoring mean emissions from the refinery are almost always predictable. We acknowledge, however, that there are areas of concern to both ourselves and our neighbours," he said.

Payne said the "most emotive" issue is sulphur dioxide (SO2), which, in high concentrations over short periods, can temporarily aggravate existing respiratory problems.

He said these levels have plummeted in the last three years and that during 2007, daily emissions averaged less than 60% of permitted limits.

"Regardless of trade permit limits, it is the refinery’s objective to reduce the number of exceedances to zero in the next two years through a R200 million capex programme."

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