DURBAN - THE National Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has warned Engen to take responsibility for the impact of an explosion at its refinery on the residents living in the area.
The committee, which visited the refinery in Wentworth on Friday, said it will not accept blame shifting by the company. The committee was accompanied by members of the provincial environmental committee on the oversight visit.
The Mercury understands from individuals that were part of the meeting that the national committee had taken a tough stance against the company, demanding it provides answers and take responsibility.
The massive explosion ripped through the refinery in Durban South last year, injuring several people and damaging nearby homes.
The oversight visit by the national committee comes amid rumblings from environmental organisations and government, over Engen’s failure to provide information about the explosion and the fire.
Last week, the provincial environmental affairs portfolio committee threatened further enforcement action against the company after accusing it of failing to provide reports with details on the cause of the explosion.
In a statement, the committee said they had met with the affected community representatives and associated stakeholders.
Chairperson of the national committee Fikile Xasa said the community had expressed lack of trust in Engen, the municipality and the provincial government, due to their failure to hold Engen accountable for the incident.
He said the committee was told that the community suffers long-term health conditions such as asthma, cancer, diabetes and other respiratory illnesses.
“Similarly, Engen has not repaired damages caused by the explosion in people’s homes,” he said.
“The committee resolved that it will not accept the blame-shifting by Engen, instead of taking responsibility for the explosion and other associated problems,” he said.
The committee also accused Engen of not being transparent about the extent of pollution of local rivers resulting from the explosion and the fire.
“The information supplied by Engen contradicts what members of the committee saw in photos about chemicals flowing into community water canal from Engen. The committee has requested Engen to submit all reports related to the incident and it will give feedback to the communities after considering and deliberating on all submissions, including from community members,” he said.
Xasa said they had been unable to go into the site and were informed that the explosion site was inaccessible due to health and safety hazards, and lack of clearance from the Department of Employment and Labour, and that private investigations were ongoing.
He said said they had also been informed by Engen that their operating permit had been revoked due to the explosion, until the refinery submits the investigation report and preventative measures to the authorities.
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) co-ordinator Desmond D’Sa, said he was pleased with the portfolio committee’s handling of Engen. “They asked some very tough questions that put the company on the backfoot.”
He said despite the grilling by the committee, they were still not clear as to what caused the fire.
“The company made a presentation, there was no substantive (information) on what caused the fire or how many people were injured. We also got a chance to see where the explosion happened, although we were not close, the area is completely burned.
“For those whose lives were affected and who have lost their property, nothing has happened, their properties have still not been fixed. They now live in government flats and are sharing until such time the flats are fixed and they could go back, that will take a couple of months. Many had sentimental property they gained over generations which Engen will not replace,” he said.
He said to date the company had engaged with the community, claiming that it had been intimidated by the community, which is not true.
Engen had not responded to request for comment yesterday.