The Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin
Source of picture: townsvilledolphins.org
By John Richardson
AS Singapore forges ahead with its petrochemicals-expansion ambitions (it would be unwise for us to share rumours about potential new investors in cracker complexes on Jurong Island), spare a thought for the embattled Taiwanese industry.
The environmental controversy surrounding the Formosa Plastics Group following two fires at its Mailiao complex in three weeks, has resulted in the government delaying issuing a permit for the company’s planned refinery, ethylene and downstream expansions.
Even before the fires, Formosa was ordered to launch a second environmental impact assessment study into the proposed investments, delaying the start of construction by six months until the end of this year.
And the already-tormented Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co refinery and cracker project at Changhua could face even more scrutiny.
Chinese Petroleum Corp (CPC), one of the shareholders in Koukuang, aims to construct a new refinery and a 1.2m tonne/year cracker which would replace an old refinery and cracker at Kaohsiung.
The project is seen as vital for CPC and small downstream companies as they seek to boost their competitive position versus the all-powerful Formosa.
But even before the Formosa fires, more than 300 academics had opposed the project as they claimed it would endanger coastal wetlands.
It has already been relocated from Yunlin in Taiwan because of a row over water consumption.
The cost of the project has also risen due to the need to provide an eco-corridor around the site for the highly endangered Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin.
A rather confusing Bloomberg report says that the project will be scrapped if environmental approval is not granted by 17 November.
Petrochemical producers need to run ever-faster to stand still if they are to remain globally competitive – i.e. they need to be constantly examining new investments in order to maintain economies of scale.
The Taiwanese industry, which has long faced environmental pressures, may now find it virtually impossible to expand at home thanks to even greater public hostility.
Is this therefore the right time to intensify lobbying efforts aimed at persuading the government to lift the ban on building crackers on the mainland?