Storm brewing over oil giant’s harbour move

CLOSE TO TOWN: An aerial view of the harbour industrial area. Picture: MIKE HOLMES
CLOSE TO TOWN: An aerial view of the harbour industrial area. Picture: MIKE HOLMES

AN independent environmental professional has lambasted Shell’s application for a postponement to meet minimum emissions standards, saying the oil multinational is up to its old tricks.

This has set the stage for what looks to be a robust public meeting next week, when the issue will be up for public discussion.

The dispute stems from Shell applying to postpone the installation of a vapour recovery unit – which will curb emissions – at the oil tank farm at the Port Elizabeth harbour.

An irate Dr Paul Martin cited the multinational’s poor record at the site as an example of the company failing to fulfil its environmental obligations and responsibilities. He also pointed to a 2009 SRK Consulting report which documented oil contamination at the Dom Pedro jetty.

But a Shell spokesman denied the company was attempting to dodge its environmental responsibilities.

Martin is spearheading an Algoa Bay Yacht Club online petition that is calling for Shell to comply with standards.

“Shell has been a bad neighbour for a long time. If you go to the harbour, the water is murky because of oil leaks,” he said.

The environmentalist also wondered whether Shell was in possession of an air emissions licence. “If it does [have one], what are the conditions of holding it?” he asked.

And he tore into the multinational, saying: “Shell, unfortunately, has not complied with environmental requirements at the oil tank farm. Also, it is one of the richest companies in the world – what is R20-million [the price of installing a vapour recovery unit] to it?”

The tanks at the site are leaky and have had a poor maintenance record for more than 40 years. Shell was merely trying to save a few bucks, Martin said.

“The site is close to the city centre, making it imperative for Shell to minimise emissions. And the ongoing contamination at the harbour leads one to have doubts about Shell’s motives.”

Martin also questioned why a draft atmospheric impact report had not been provided to interested and affected parties prior to the stakeholder meeting.

This, he charged, showed that the public participation process was not transparent.

Late last year, Martin was instrumental in temporarily stopping New African Global Energy from conducting seismic surveys off Algoa Bay when he lodged a complaint against the company with the Petroleum Agency of South Africa.

Air quality consultant Sarisha Perumal, of uMoya-NILU, the consultancy handling the postponement application on Shell’s behalf, said an air emissions licence was a separate issue.

Shell spokesman Hemant Lala said: “An atmospheric impact report will be made available at the public meeting on May 16. Stakeholders will have a 30-day period to comment on it.

“Each operator [at] the PE facility is responsible for its site.

“Shell has done maintenance [on] the ageing assets in PE. We are running on a minimum number of tanks, while others have been decommissioned.

“In 2012, we brought all internal underground fuel pipelines above ground, and all our operational tanks are subjected to a maintenance programme despite the upcoming relocation to Coega.”

The final decision on the application rested with the Department of Environmental Affairs. An application had been submitted to the national air quality officer, Perumal said.

  • The public participation meeting will be held at the Grand Hotel in Central, Port Elizabeth, on Friday May 16 from 5pm until 8pm. Those who want to attend must RSVP by May 14. – Xolisa Phillip

Leave a Reply