....what do these environmental issues mean for Thailand as an investment destination?
The Map Ta Phut refinery-petrochemicals complex
Source of picture: Pattaya News
By Malini Hariharan (Malini is now joint blogger for Asian Chemical Connections)
Here's yet another unexpected project delay that could prop up markets in the fourth quarter.
The Thai Central Administrative Court decided to halt construction of 76 projects at Map Ta Phut on environmental grounds last week.
The long list of projects includes new crackers and derivative projects by PTT and Siam Cement/Dow Chemical.
PTT was due to have started commissioning a new 1m tonne/year cracker complex in the fourth quarter, while Siam Cement and Dow Chemical's 900,000 tonne/year cracker and downstream plants were scheduled to commence operations next year.
Both of the Thai companies have issued statements that the projects are likely to be delayed, and PTT has even decided to delay a maintenance shutdown at one of its crackers from October to January 2010.
Thailand is already a net exporter of PE and PP and the new projects would have increased the country's export burden.
One local newspaper report said that projects could be delayed by a year, although the two companies have not yet declared revised start-up dates for their projects.
PTT issued a statement that it was working closely with government authorities to resolve the crisis and that it had submitted a petition to a higher court. The prime minister has already asked the industry ministry to appeal against the ruling.
The Bangkok Post reported that the appeal would be made in two parts.
The first section would ask for court permission to allow industrial projects that have no impact on the environment to continue, while the second would seek a temporary halt to projects that had problems with environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies.
The story did not identify projects that had EIA problems.
There is no doubt that the government will have to act fast. But it faces a tough task of balancing public opinion and expectations while protecting the interests of local and foreign investors.
Public opinion - seen in some of the comments that the Bangkok Post report has drawn - will be difficult to ignore.
It might be even harder to address growing concerns about Map Ta Phut as an investment destination in Southeast Asia.
This latest crisis in Thailand is also a fresh reminder of the growing power of the people in many parts of Asia to influence chemical-project activity.
Protests against construction of mega projects on environmental grounds are getting louder and louder.