Refinery project sparks debate

Updated: 2013-05-11 08:31

By Guo Anfei in Kunming and Hu Yongqi in Beijing (China Daily)

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Evaluations of plant that may make dangerous chemical to continue

A controversial chemical project in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, is still under discussion, and evaluations will continue until a deadline in July to reach a consensus on the production of paraxylene, or PX, a potentially dangerous chemical, company officials said at a news conference on Friday.

However, local residents said that they have doubts about the project and asked for it to be scrapped.

The PX project is related to an oil refinery located in Kunming's county-level city of Anning and owned by China National Petroleum Corp, or CNPC. The CNPC refinery is expected to have an annual processing capacity of 10 million tons of crude oil.

Hu Jingke, general manager of CNPC Yunnan Petrochemical Co Ltd, said at the news conference in Kunming that the CNPC oil refinery project does not have a PX project and will not include one.

However, Hu Jun, general manager of Yuntianhua Petrochemical Co Ltd, said at the same news conference that the Kunming-based Yuntianhua Group plans to process the by-products of the massive refinery, which include annually 410,000 tons of xylene mixture, or MX, the source material for PX.

"The MX will be made into PX, which will then be made into pure terephthalic acid," said Hu Jun.

However, he did not reveal whether the PX will be a finished product or just an ingredient for pure terephthalic acid, which is used to make clothing and plastic bottles.

The project remained unknown to Kunming residents until March when local media reported on its approval in January by the central government.

Last Saturday, thousands of locals gathered peacefully in downtown Kunming to express their opposition to the project, saying that they are afraid of the potential side effects.

This was another case of a PX project being opposed by locals after similar plants in Xiamen, Fujian province, and Dalian, Liaoning province, were canceled after a public outcry.

"The feasibility report and environmental impact evaluation are still in process and will be completed in late July," said Hu Jun at the news conference. "By then, we'll have the final decision on whether the project is going to be implemented based on public opinion. If it is opposed, the project will no longer exist."

Yunnan is the first stop for the China-Myanmar oil-gas pipeline, a major channel for China's energy imports.

"The refinery is an integrated support project for the pipeline to avoid the risks related to sea transport from the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia and further ensure the energy safety of our country," said Hu Jingke.

Anning city is located in the southwest of Kunming and the province is hit by monsoons in the rainy season. Therefore, Kunming residents believe that the air would be severely affected by the refinery.

However, Zheng Zhihua, a professor of environmental protection at Kunming University of Science and Technology, said the refinery would be safe because a mountain blocks the wind from the southwest.

"In addition, the distance between the refinery and Kunming is 30 km, three times the minimum safe distance of 10 km," he said.

Officials at the press conference in Kunming said that a stricter environmental review will be conducted by a third-party body and that the public will have the final say on the project.

Meanwhile, Kunming Mayor Li Wenrong said the refinery would help to put an end to the city's oil shortage.

"I still remember hundreds of drivers lining up at gas stations to refuel their vehicles. If the traffic is bad, we can build more highways. But how can I drill for oil if there isn't any?

"The city government will listen to suggestions from local residents, with full respect for the wishes of the public. If the majority of locals say yes, the PX project will be implemented. Otherwise it will be canceled," Li said.

Liang Weisha, 33, took part in the protest against the PX project on May 4.

"During the May Day holiday, I saw a message from a friend about the protest march and I participated, because every Kunming resident has the responsibility to protect the environment," she said.

She said that she used to be able to swim in Dianchi Lake where the water was very clean when she was young. But now, the water quality of the lake is so bad that fish are dying.

"It's better to develop tourism projects in Kunming rather than to pursue industrial development," she said.

"I have been to many industrial cities where the air is really bad and the environment is horrible," she said. "I don't agree with the pursuit of GDP growth by sacrificing our environment and I'm afraid that Kunming will do so one day.

"I still cast some doubts on the announcements and will join the protest afterwards if needed," Liang said.

She appealed for the suspension of the PX project.

Li Yingqing and Wu Wencong contributed to this story.

(China Daily 05/11/2013 page3)