Sapref to refine cleaner petrol

2012-05-30 00:00

DURBAN oil refinery Sapref will lay out an estimated R3 billion to boost the quality of petrol produced at its plant in Prospecton.

The move towards cleaner fuels will bring South Africa more in line with parts of the world like Europe and the U.S. where crude oil is refined to a much higher standard.

It will lower car emissions and improve vehicle performance, and allow the use of engines currently incompatible with the country’s petrol.

Sapref MD Robin Mooldijk said they were responding to anticipated legislation that is expected sometime in 2017.

“This will take us closer to Euro-5 standards which are found in most parts of the world. At the moment we are at Euro-2.”

The refinery, jointly owned by Shell and BP, is set to begin improving diesel in 2015, followed by petrol two years later.

Improving fuel quality will necessitate the significant reduction of sulphur content in oil, as well as benzene.

The company has set a deadline of end of next year for a final investment decision.

Mooldijk was speaking at a media tour of the refinery yesterday, where journalists watched a fire-fighting demonstration, saw the bunker-like control room in operation and were chauffeured around huge storage tanks.

More than 160 000 km of pipelines are threaded around towering stacks and giant processing units that extract vast wealth from the oil.

The plant produces more than petrol — under heat crude separates into gas, kerosene, diesel oil, lubricants and bitumen, all of which undergo further treatment and processing.

The refinery is one of the country’s key strategic sites, receiving 80% of South Africa’s crude oil imports — annually about 15 million tons — from a mooring pipeline 2,5 km out at sea.

Despite its importance to the nation’s economy, Sapref has lived uneasily next to neighbouring communities in the south Durban basin.

Complaints of oil spills, odours and flaring have dogged the site for years, with communities criticising what they say is ageing infrastructure. Sapref was commissioned in 1963.

Managers acknowledged the criticism, but insisted much work has been done and money spent in recent times to upgrade equipment and reduce discomfort to residents sick of bad smells and late-night flaring.

Flaring occurs under heightened pressure when gases in a unit get released through enormous stacks and are burnt off. Their exit is accompanied by a massive flame at the top of the chimney.

Company environmental and safety boss John van Bunkum said the controversy with flaring amounted to more of a “nuisance factor” than any serious health concern.

“The smoke and smells annoy people,” he said.

Since 1998, the company claims it has spent R1 billion reducing sulphur dioxide emissions by 70%, particle matter by 86% and flaring by 50%.

Annually, it says, it spends R90 million fixing and replacing pipes and R300 million on its statutory maintenance shutdown.

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