Activists call for Shell to be shut down

By Richard Thompson

The Shell oil company, far from being reborn as an environmentally conscious energy firm, continues to pollute the environment, Durban environmental activists said on Tuesday.

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and groundWork said details of continuing pollution incidents were documented in a new book, Riding the Dragon: Royal Dutch Shell & The Fossil Fire, launched on Tuesday in Durban, London, Lagos and Manila.

Copies of the book were to be presented to Shell management at all the launches.

"Shell's oil refinery in South Africa is an apartheid relic that is presently crumbling. The plant has had more than 17 major incidents since January 2001, impacting directly on the people in south Durban, and they have a right to call for government to shut it down," said Bobby Peek, a Durban resident and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Desmond D'Sa, chairperson of the SDCEA, said he was extremely concerned about the safety of the people in his neighbourhood in south Durban.

"Must we first die as a result of an industrial incident before government will listen to us?" he asked.

SDCEA spokesperson Steven van Wyk said the pipelines from the SA Petrol Refineries (Sapref) plant in Durban to the Island View storage depot, where products were stored before being shipped out of the country, were about 40 years old.

In developed countries it was the practice to replace such pipelines every 20 years. In Durban they had merely been patched.

The SDCEA said pollution incidents at the Sapref plant in less than four years included:

  • the largest underground petrol spill in Shell's history, in June 2001;

  • an incident in which 25 tons of toxic tetra ethyl lead, a neurotoxin, leaked, in March 2001;

  • an incident in which 15 000 litres of marine fuel oil spilled into Durban harbour in December 2001.

    The SDCEA said Sapref admitted in February 2000 that it had been under-reporting sulphur dioxide emissions by as much as 12 tonnes per day.

    Asked if the leaks of so many chemicals did not cost Shell money, Van Wyk said the financial losses to Shell were small, in some cases "not even measurable," but the damage to human health and the environment was great.

    Shell had not replied to a request for comment by the time of writing. - Sapa

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