Sapref to fund new look at leaking pipelines

Published Sep 3, 2002

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By Farhana Ismail

In the face of international and local protests over pollution, Sapref, the country's largest oil refinery, admitted on Tuesday that it had made mistakes.

Shell and BP, owned by Sapref, have a "dismal pollution record which has claimed the lives of many residents" said protesters outside the plant south of Durban on Tuesday.

And Sapref, in an unusual admission in writing to residents, said it did not have a "perfect environmental and social performance record".

International and local protesters, including children, accused the refinery of a "time bomb waiting to explode" and said they were fed up with the increasing cases of leukaemia and respiratory disorders as a result of emissions from both Sapref and Engen in the South Basin.

Recent independent surveys and pollution levels, environmental activists say, link many deaths to the high level of emissions.

Responding to residents via the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Sapref has agreed to fund an independent review of its pipelines - the cause of a recent hazardous risk when one million litres of petrol leaked from one of them, causing many families to be uprooted.

And it has also agreed to participate in a comparative study between Durban oil refineries and two Danish refineries.

Acknowledging the refinery had made mistakes in the past, the refinery's managing director Richard Parkes said it was determined to improve. "I think our attitude of listening closely in the last year reflects our commitment."

Protest action during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg has spiralled countrywide, in some instances turning bloody as in the case of the pro-Palestinian marchers in Johannesburg on Monday.

Local protesters, joined by international activists from Greenpeace, including Paul Harsman, challenged Parkes to quit his position and accused the hundreds of police officers present at the protest of brutality.

Claims of police brutality followed the indiscriminate use of force and attacks on protesters after which Johannesburg activist Ahmed Veriava had to undergo emergency reconstructive surgery to his fingers which were hit by rubber bullets shot by a policeman.

Said Harsman: "It's really important for Greenpeace to show their solidarity with the Wentworth, Bluff, Isipingo and Merebank communities. Residents have a right to a safe and healthy environment.

"Sapref's failure to use First World standards and equipment cannot be allowed to persist.

"Greenpeace is behind this community in Durban. We have monitored the pollution levels in communities where Shell and BP are involved worldwide. Durban is severely affected and we can say that from research and analyses."

Incidents at Sapref in the past years include an oil spill into Durban harbour; explosion and fire at the plant with the release of five tons of hydrogen fluoride; and petrol pipe leaks.

A French-speaking protester shouted "Shell must go to hell" , while a local child pleaded with Parkes to "save my life".

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