In it a virtual Portfolio Committee meeting convened after Parliament had risen, energy company Engen gave the sequence of events leading to the 4 December 2020 explosion and fire at its Durban South refinery and what actions it has taken since in dealing with the damage it has caused. The Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Act requires Engen to comply with its major hazard installation (MHI) regulations. Engen has received directives from the authorities such as the Departments of Employment and Labour (DEL) and Environmental Affairs which it has to respond to. The Engen CEO told the Committee that the company was compliant and operating within the acceptable limits. Engen had tried to engage with the community as requested but there was a disagreement between the two which prevented the meeting from happening. The company was verifying the damage caused to the area and assisting those community members that had to be moved. He said the Incident Report, which must be provided within 14 days, would explain the cause.
The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) detailed the incident, its background, and the response by the authorities. In terms of the OHS Act, a Joint Operations Committee (JOC) was established which provides progress to the political and administrative heads in the management of the incident. The JOC manages the notices and directives issued to Engen.
KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) as the lead department in the JOC and eThekwini Metro explained their role and response to Engen Refinery fire.
The NGOs groundWork and the South Durban Community and Environmental Alliance gave presentations, including technical input from an environmental epidemiologist and a climate justice specialist. These presentations detailed the trauma inflicted on the communities as a result of the Engen refinery incidents, and the effects of toxic substances such as benzene. The claims were made that because Engen plans to sell and leave that there has been poor maintenance and that Engen has been disregarding the health of the communities as the "acceptable limits" of South African regulations are far below WHO standards. It was also made clear that the official response to climate change is inadequate. It was stated that a just transition to South Africa’s future will include paying “climate debts” or reparations from polluters to the affected communities.
Some Committee members proposed the Committee do an oversight visit of the affected community now. The Committee had planned to visit Durban South after a November 2019 meeting with civil society organisations lamenting the unsafe environment and pollution in Durban South but Covid-19 had disrupted that plan. Now an explosive fire had injured people and damaged homes in that community. The Chairperson said that ultimately the Committee would conduct an oversight visit but the three levels of government are active in their oversight of the incident and the province and municipality should formally engage the communities around the refinery. Members asked about compensation for the families that had to leave the block of flats near the refinery until the block was repaired. They said a proper acknowledgment about the severe disruption and trauma caused to the community was needed. They asked what action would be taken about the oil sludge spilling onto the beach; about environmental remediation; about incidents of noxious emissions which are a health hazard; and what precautionary measures Engen put in place after the prior incidents that should have prevented this incident from happening.
Chairperson’s Opening Remarks
The Chairperson noted the impromptu meeting as Parliament had risen on 4 December, but due to the explosion, it was best the Portfolio Committee convene this urgent meeting and get proper information that was necessary for it to have before it closes. This meeting was also prompted because at the end of 2019, the Committee had met with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who raised concerns about the pollution in Durban South and asked the Committee to do an oversight visit. However, it could not go because of lockdown. Now there was an incident. That is why the Committee felt it should all stakeholders should come together so everyone has a common understanding of what is going on and in responding to the concerns raised by communities. He noted that the Deputy Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries was present.
Mr N Singh (IFP) would need to excuse himself as he would speaking at the funeral of a close friend, but the subject of the meeting was “very close to his heart”, because when he was the KZN MEC, eThekwini Metro Council came up with a multi-point plan with the Provincial Department and he did not know what happened to that plan. As a result of the plan not being implemented, there were these particular challenges now.
Engen General Compliance Environment
Mr Yusa Hassan, Engen Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), introduced his Engen delegation: Ms Shirley Moroka-Mosia, Chief Health, Safety, Environment, and Quality General Manager; Mr Sykry Hassim, Refinery GM; Mr Khalid Latiff, Corporate Strategy and Communications GM; Ms Salome Peu, Refinery HSEQ; Ms Bongiwe Mkhwanazi, Refinery Environmental Services Manager.
Mr Hassan presented on the following topics:
1. Sequence of Events; 2. Incident Management; 3. Community Complaints; 4. Environmental Monitoring; 5. Response Actions; 6. Compliance Status; 7. Directive/Notice Received since Incident.
Sequence of Events
• At 7:08 on Friday, 4 December 2020, there was a fire at the Engen Refinery facility in Wentworth, Durban.
• The location of the incident was at Unit 44 of the North Complex.
• The prevailing south westerly wind was 9.8 km/hour.
• Activation of Engen Refinery’s emergency response team and eThekwini Metro Emergency Services.
• Incident was managed through Refinery’s Emergency Headquarters and Engen Joint Operations Committee with Refinery General Manager being Incident Commander.
• Fire was successfully extinguished by 08:45. “All Clear” was declared at 12:00.
• Six contract workers were taken by ambulance to hospital, and released within an hour.
• Authority engagement with KZN EDTEA.
• All refinery units have been shut down to ensure plant remains safe while investigation underway.
• Environment friendly foam concentrate was used for the duration of the incident.
• All effluent was contained in the emergency impoundment ponds immediately.
• Sampling of effluent before a controlled release to Southern Works Wastewater Treatment Plant.
• Air quality – handheld environmental monitoring and samples taken for independent analysis.
There were about 50 complaints about damage to windows, doors, ceilings and roofs, two walls fell down, TV, DVD, cellphone, DSTV dish. Health complaints included blocked ears and feeling sick after the explosion.
Maps showed the location of the complaints.
Environmental Monitoring Results
• SO2 limit is 134ppb.
• Air quality monitoring during the incident was low.
• Atmospheric Impacts report will be undertaken by independent consultants.
Ms Shirley Moroka-Mosia, Chief General Manager Health, Safety, Environment Quality, spoke to compliance:
Refinery Compliance Status – Directive
Engen was issued with a directive in 2013. It met the requirements and received a directive closure status in 2016. As part of the closure, five outstanding items were planned in the future. The status of those were:
• The first item was the LPG Rail loading, which has been planned for its main shutdown in 2021.
• Second was the LPG loading pump, which has been finalised.
• The LPG vessel level detection has been planned for 2021, the main shutdown.
• The crude and gasoline tanks, and the integrity assessment, have both been closed, and the remaining projects will be taken as part of Engen’s major shutdown in 2021.
• This status update has been submitted to the relevant authorities as per the requirements.
• Update on long-term projects provided in KZN EDTEA Annual Reports since 2017.
Refinery Compliance Status – Major Hazard Installation
Engen is a major hazard installation as defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and has to comply with the Major Hazard Installation (MHI) Regulations. The latest MHI was 22 October 2018 by an independent company.
Authority Notices Requirements following the Incident
Engen has received notices from KZN EDTEA and Department of Employment and Labour (DEL).
1. Stakeholder Engagement: Appointment of an independent community facilitator to be facilitation between the Refinery and the Community.
2. Management of Community Expectations: Action plan to address the impacts on the surrounding community to be developed as part of the liaison forum.
3. Management of Health Impacts: Appoint toxicologist to conduct toxicology assessment to determine potential risks of exposure to workers and community.
4. Management of Air Quality Impacts: Conduct atmospheric emission impact assessment: quantification of pollutants and emissions released.
5. Assessment of damaged infrastructure as a result of community complaints: Appoint external assessor/ structural engineer to assess damages.
6. Root Cause Analysis (RCA) process: Appoint external consultant to conduct independent RCA.
Engen was currently busy with these activities, and would be finalising those soon.
Actions Taken to Attend to Communities Affected
1. Immediate response to complaints.
2. Assistance to those affected (housing of family).
3. Confirmation of receipt of complaints/claims.
4. Community stakeholder engagements.
5. Authority engagements (MEC, EDTEA, DEFF, eThekwini Health, DEL.)
Further actions to be taken:
1. Develop Comprehensive Action Plan to establish and manage impacts of incident on community.
2. Emphasize the process to report all complaints and lodge a claim.
3. Verification and assessment of the claims on a case-by-case basis.
4. Stakeholder engagement with community leaders and all relevant stakeholders.
Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) update on Engen Oil Refinery fire
Ms Maggie Sotyu, Deputy Minister, said that since the incident, DEFF has been a part of the follow up in terms of Section 30 of NEMA. She noted apologies from the Minister who was attending another meeting.
Mr Sonnyboy Bapela, DEFF Chief Director: Compliance, highlighted that section 30 of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) allows the relevant authorities to manage incidents as soon as they occur. The general principles applied are once there is an incident, the responsible person, in this case Engen, is expected to report to all relevant authorities simultaneously. Upon receipt of that letter of information, the authorities will then come together to plan how they will monitor the incident. At the facility, the authorities establish the joint operations committee (JOC). There will be a lead department either a national, provincial or municipal department. In this case, the provincial department is the lead department working together with the MEC for Environmental Affairs and MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA)
Mr Ishaam Abader, DEFF Acting Director-General, gave background:
• The Engen Oil Refinery is based at 465 Tara Road, Wentworth in Durban.
• The refinery has been in existence for over 60 years.
• On 4 December 2020 at about 07h10, a fire broke out at Engen causing a massive explosion
• The fire was extinguished at 08h45.
• The fire incident happened in the Catalytic Diesel Hydrotreater (CDH) unit.
Details of the Incident
• The fire reportedly erupted in a pressurised diesel process unit in the North Complex, possibly caused by a dip in electricity supply on 3 December 2020. This has to be confirmed through independent investigation.
• The followings impacts and effects were reported:
- Six employees affected by the Engen explosion were treated and discharged from the hospital.
- Two residents were treated for shock and discharged, an 83-year-old and three-year-old.
- A block of flats with approximately 28 persons, was affected. They have been relocated to nearby B&Bs while the flats are being refurbished. Costs must be recovered from Engen.
• The plant has been shut down pending the outcome of the investigation for safety reasons.
• DEL issued Engen with a Prohibition Order and there is a 20-metre no-go buffer area at the facility.
Response by Authorities
Engen has agreed to help the affected families. DEFF is responsible to establish a JOC, which provides progress to the political and administrative heads in the management of the incident. JOC manages the notices and directives issued to Engen.
Response by authorities:
1. DEFF Sector Monitoring: Environmental Impact and Pollution
2. eThekwini Metro: Fire Services, Air Quality Management, Environmental Health, Metro Police.
3. Provincial Department of Environmental Affairs (Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement, Air Quality Management), Office of the MEC and Communications;
4. CoGTA Provincial Disaster Management Services;
5. DEL to ascertain the health and safety of the employees;
6. Department of Human Settlements to investigate effects of fire on neighbouring human settlements.
• Engen has an existing Air Emissions Licence (AEL).
• The smoke affected the neighbouring communities.
• Air quality monitoring stations did not show noxious gases exceed limits.
• The first recorded incident at Engen happened in 2006 and the second in 2011. EDTEA issued a section 28 directive to Engen in 2011. The section provides for a “duty of care” and remediation of environmental damage. The directive directs Engen to carry out specific steps in line with section 36 of NEMA to confirm within seven days the coverage of costs, nature of incident, steps to be taken to remediate and rehabilitate, and furnish an environmental management plan on how best to deal with the impact of the incident.
• The refinery is still on shutdown.
• Analysis of the incident and the investigation is still pending.
• An Incident Report must be provided within 14 days from the incident date.
• EDTEA immediately mobilized officials to undertake a site visit to assess environmental damage.
• A Joint Operations Committee (JOC) of DEFF, EDTEA, CoGTA, DoH, DEL and the City of eThekwini has been established to monitor the process and provide advice and support where necessary.
• A JOC meeting was held on site on 4 December 2020.
• COGTA MEC met on 5 December 2020 with Ward Councillors and emergency services department.
• A follow-up inspection was conducted by DEFF and EDTEA to establish the amount of diesel spilled and foam used. The departments will report to their heads when investigation of the incident is finalised.
• A NEMA s28 directive issued by EDTEA for “duty of care” and remediation of environmental damage.
• EDTEA and other authorities are monitoring progress of clean-up and incident management on-site.
The Chairperson noted the Department has given itself 14 days to write up a report - the provincial department is the lead department in this incident.
KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA)
Mr Nhlakanipho Nkontwana, Head of Department: EDTEA, introduced his delegation: Ms Siphumelele Nowele, Chief Director: Environmental Management; Ms Noloyiso Walingo, Environmental Manager; Ms Vanessa Maclou, District Manager; Mr Sabelo Ngcobo, District Manager; and Dr Zakhele Dlamini.
Ms Siphumelele Nowele, Chief Director: Environmental Management, said she would not repeat details:
Actions Taken & Issues Noted By Authorities
1. Environment in general:
• A site inspection, but within the limits of the Prohibition Order of Dept of Employment & Labour.
• Ordered Engen to compile a Section 30 Report in terms of the National Environmental Management Ac, within 14 days from the date of the emergency incident.
• This report will detail the cause of the incident, clean up and the remediation plan.
• Section 28 NEMA verbal directive was issued and Engen has provided a preliminary report (section 30).
• The directive instructed Engen to appoint an independent facilitator to liaise with affected communities.
• A six-month maintenance record has been requested by EDTEA for perusal.
2. Air Quality:
• Air pollution is one of the complex issues between industries and communities.
• Engen has an Atmospheric Emissions Licence issued by eThekwini Metro.
• Air pollution in the area is monitored by three air monitoring stations (Settlers, Wentworth and Southern Works) all in working order and reporting directly to the South African Air Quality System (SAAQIS)
• Criteria pollutants being monitored include: carbon monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone, particulate matter (PM), and sulphur dioxide (SO2)
• Act of God during the incident - meteorological conditions in favour of the adjacent communities, in that the plume was carried up and dispersed into the upper atmosphere due to the prevailing South Westerly winds.
• Readings at the stations did not exceed limits.
• eThekwini Metro Air Quality Management Section issued Engen a section 30 notice to produce a report (National Environmental Management: Air Quality) within 30 days of the incident.
• Immediate air quality incident details required by 7 December 2020.
• A toxicological assessment is required to determine risk to workers and communities.
• EDTEA immediately conducted site visit to assess environmental damages.
• A Joint Operations Committee (JOC) of EDTEA, CoGTA, DoH, DEL and City of Ethekwini was established and meeting held on site on 4 December 2020.
• EDTEA Director: Air Quality Management has been assigned to monitor with Ethekwini Metro air quality management – one of most critical sources of conflict between industries and communities.
• The neighbouring community informed of the incident through social media and outreach by the Public Affairs Department of Engen.
• The JOC war room will monitor the process and provide advice and support and work in line with the District Development Model.
• COGTA MEC has engaged with Department of Health on health impact of the explosion on communities.
• The Department of Social Development will liaise with Engen about post trauma counselling and the Department has already initiated engagements with the communities for this purpose.
Historical Incidents from 2006
Ms Vanessa Maclou, District Manager, noted the incidents:
• A fire at the Vacuum Unit - 16 April 2006.
• A release of black smoke and Fluid Catalytic Cracking Unit (FCCU) catalyst (Aluminium silicate) - 11 October 2006.
• Release of steam and catalyst fines from the CO boiler, that combusts flue gas from the Fluidized Catalytic Cracker Unit - 18 November 2007.
• A fire at Tank X104 -19 November 2007.
• A series of explosions in the oily water sewer along Railroad Avenue - 19 March 2008.
• A leak on the underground line conveying naphtha to the Reformer Unit - July 2008.
• A fire on the hot circuit crude pump on the Crude Unit at North complex - 13 November 2008.
• A spill at Exchanger E2023 Pressure Safety Valve Bleeder - 16 March 2010.
• A flaring incident and release of storm water to the Badulla canal - 13 March 2011.
• The release of a crude oil mist and a fire -10 October 2011.
• A fine oil spray - 07 April 2012.
The Department issued a directive in 2013 to Engen Merebank Refinery to commission a specialist to undertake a Risk and Integrity Assessment for a Plan of Action to prevent the occurrence of emergency incidents and mitigate the environmental impact when such incidents occur. The directive was complied with and there were no major Section 30 incidents after 07 April 2012 up until 04 December 2020.
In Oct 2016, a joint environmental management inspection (EMI) audit was undertaken at the refinery by team comprised of EMIs from the Metro and EDTEA. There was no non-compliance, hence no action was taken. Monthly Air quality monitoring meetings convened by the Metro. Quarterly compliance reports are submitted to National and Province. To date nil non-compliance warranted any action from EDTEA.
1. EDTEA to receive NEMA section 30 (Incident Reports). These will be subjected to independent peer review to determine if any enforcement actions need to be undertaken
2. The war room led by CoGTA to continue with a well-coordinated response to reduce the impact of the explosion in the communities. eThekwini will play a key role in the social dialogues to ensure stability
3. EDTEA MEC to meet with the Engen National CEO to discuss the reported possible closure of the refinery and provide feedback to Cabinet
4. EDTEA and DoH to undertake a Health Impact Study on pollution caused by the refinery and diseases affecting people in the surrounding communities
5. EDTEA to undertake an assessment of pollution in other areas and take necessary enforcement actions
6. DSD to provide post-trauma counselling to affected persons within surrounding communities.
eThekwini Municipality response to Engen Refinery fire
Dr Musa Gumede, eThekwini Deputy City Manager, noted their delegation was led by Deputy Mayor Belinda Scott. Three departments joined the delegation: Health Unit, Fire and Emergency, Disaster Management.
Deputy Mayor Belinda Scott said that the municipality responds to fire and disasters and would like to go through its presentation noting areas not covered by EDTEA.
Fire and Emergency Services
Mr Sibusiso Mkhulisi, Acting Senior Manager of Operations: Fire Emergency Services, noted that Engen Refinery has their own fire staff and resources. This is augmented by the eThekwini Metro.
1. Reports of residential flat on fire received in the vicinity of the Engen Refinery at 07:29.
2. Brigade in attendance 07:31
3. Fire limited to third floor, affecting two residential units.
4. Two patients suffered minor burns.
5. Incident under control at 07:38.
6. Fire Safety investigated incident at 09:51. Definitive cause undetermined.
7. Allegations of fire cause being debris from the explosion could not be confirmed or refuted.
1. Reports of fire-and-explosion received at 07:13
2. Fire limited to diesel reactor and pressurised nitrogen tank area.
3. Engen Refinery Fire team engaged the fire whilst the Metro Resources were mobile. Fires extinguished using principally mechanical foam.
4. The only injuries were six patients treated for smoke inhalation. Fire event complete at 08:45.
Ms Joyce Hammond, Senior Environmental Health Practitioner: eThekwini Municipality introduced her delegation: Mr Bruce Dale, Senior Manager; Pollution Control/ Risk Management; Ms Phumzile Vezi, Environmental Health Services Manager (including air emissions licences); Mr Santosh Hansraj, Environmental Health Services Manager, responsible for South Durban Basin; Mr Sindiso Mithi, Air Quality Monitoring Network Manager; Ms Shereen Whitby, Permitting Officer for Engen, eThekwini Municipality; Mr Peter Roberts, After-Hours Complaints Management; Mr Njabulo Masuku, Air Quality Data Management.
From a Local Municipality perspective ENGEN is governed by:
1. Local Bylaws – Schedule Trade Permit being one of a few
2. Air Quality Act (AQA) in terms of Air Quality Management
3. MHI Regulations
Purpose of the Scheduled Trade and Occupations Bylaws is to provide measures for the minimisation and management of environmental and health impacts likely to arise from premises undertaking certain trades. ENGEN has a valid permit renewed on the 1st April 2020 and valid for 5 years (expiring 31 March 2025).
ENGEN Specific Conditions as Per ST&O Permit and as AEL Permit were noted and compliance (June 2020 – December 2020)
• Non-compliance with AEL conditions – Failure to meet minimum emission standard – Notice served
• Fire Incident – Notice served – Directive includes: Root cause analysis, Atmospheric Impact Report (AIR), Dispersion modelling, Toxicological Assessment.
eThekweni Air Quality Monitoring data
Mr Njabulo Masuku presented data from the days preceding the event, and the days after the event.
• During the day of the incident winds were predominately south westerly.
• Air Quality Data Review - daily trends allows municipality to see if trends were increasing or decreasing.
The graphic on slide 17 showed daily trends. The municipality looked at data from before the Friday incident. It had to look at post-incident data to see if there were elevated readings. On that particular day, at City Hall, there was a notable PM10 measurement (measure of particulate matter concentration) and of PM2.5. Concentrations were fairly low, because later that day, it was raining.
In comparison with the standard particulate matter PM10, it was compared across the region. For all stations, measures were far below the standard (slide 18). It was the same with PM2.5; it was below the AQA standard of 40µg/m3 (slide 19). If one looks at the day of the incident, it is less compared to the following days; on Sunday, there was a little bit of elevated levels.
The municipality tried to look at the highest resolution of sulphur dioxide. The standard for that is a 10-minute measure and the standard value is 191ppb. For stations in the sub-region, sulphur dioxide was below the standard (slide 20). It was “pointless” to look at hourly and daily measurements if the 10-minute measure was far below the standard.
For benzene, looking from Thursday to Sunday, one can see that on Friday, there was a small peak in the morning at about 7am, but it was minimal. For example, there was 0.5ppb at Settlers School. Such a measurement informs one that during that day, because of meteorological conditions, it was raining later on in the day. We know from science that rainfall does cleanse the atmosphere (slide 21).
Slide 22 shows diurnal trends for oxides of nitrogen (NOx). That typical diurnal peak on Friday is a common traffic peak. This peak was also far below the standard, because the standard is 220ppb for NO2. NO2 was fairly low, so it was not shown. One would not expect NOx to come from the incident; the targeted pollutants were sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter, and carbon monoxide (CO). But CO was also fairly low. It is being monitored at Warwick monitoring station which is in the Central, not South, Durban Basin region.
Health Response to the Incident
• Health Officials were part of the Engen Operation centre from 08h00 and in contact with ground response.
• Engen team was questioned about fuels within the reactor, the products of combustion, the quantities of fuel combusted, the sulphur content. Still to be determined.
• No odours were detected at ground level.
• Water courses were inspected and no impacts were observed.
• Complaints management system is in place and 27 complaints were received. Action was taken where necessary. 1 notice has been served and complied with.
• Three prosecutions against Engen operations are pending finalisation with the Control Prosecutor.
Mr Vincent Ngubane, eThekwini Head of Disaster Management, submitted three documents. These were: Emergency plans which are standard operating procedure; Onsite emergency plan; Offsite emergency plan.
• The Incident Management System organises and coordinates the response to meet incident needs.
• The Incident Management System provides a framework where similar functions are grouped, responsibilities are identified, and lines of authority are established.
• The Incident Management System provides a structure to communicate and process information for decision making.
Disaster Management runs the fusion centre with a number of stakeholders. In terms of standard operating procedures, the fusion centre is converted into a disaster operation centre in the event of an emergency. In this case, Engen had their own emergency onsite post, where a number of stakeholders were available, including Disaster Management Officers, who were there to coordinate activities onsite. There was also assistance and coordination at the Disaster Operational Centre; all relevant information from onsite was communicated to Disaster Operational Centre for records and also for command and control. There was no need for provincial officials, but they were present at the Disaster Operational Centre during the incident.
Routine Emergencies Versus Crisis Emergencies
The incident at Engen was classified as an emergency incident, in that the municipality was able to deal with it, contain it, and avoid any further emergencies or harm to communities. In terms of the Fire Brigade Services Act, the incident was not associated with a disaster.
Escalating from Routine Emergency to Crisis Emergencies/Catastrophic Events/Disasters
Crisis emergencies are distinguished by significant elements of novelty. These novel features may result from threats never before encountered or a familiar event occurring at an unprecedented scale outstripping available resources. Novel circumstances may make routine response seriously inadequate.
Significant novelty may demand new – unplanned – unrehearsed actions.
This incident was familiar to Disaster Management because it has dealt with incidents of a similar nature at Engen. There is an Engen onsite plan, which it always looks into, and conducts exercises on aspects it needs to improve on. There is the generic offsite emergency plan for the South Durban Basin, of which consultation has been done with stakeholders. There needed to be consultation with the community, and an endorsement of the offsite plan, and the working plan for disaster management in compliance with the Disaster Management Act. It also needed to be in compliance with the MHI regulations.
The eThekwini disaster management level 2 plan [corporate plan] addresses the steps to be followed if an incident requires the activation of the disaster management joint operations centre, and the roles and functions of all units and agencies required to manage the incident.
Mr N Singh (IFP) endorsed the Chairperson’s opening remarks that the Committee was meant to visit Engen around March but COVID-19 prevented it from doing so. He made a firm proposal that early in 2021, when COVID-19 allows it, the Committee must visit, because he did not think it possible to resolve all the issues on a virtual platform. There are short, medium and long-term interventions required. Some of the directives were issued in 2013; it is now 2020, and those directives have not been met. Having said that, he noted that all the presentations had been focusing on intergovernmental relations. He heard very little about involvement with the communities. To what extent have communities been involved and taken on board on what happened, why it happened, and what will be done in the future to ameliorate these risks that prevail? From media reports, one notes that there are conflicting reports on the extent of damage, not only to infrastructure, but also injuries. To what extent has the infrastructural damage, and injuries, psychological and otherwise, been verified by all parties, including community organisations? He did not get a sense that there was this verification. It could have been worse, but a lot more needs to be done in this area. Immediate action must be taken to deal for those people affected by this fire at the Engen refinery.
[Mr William Goldstone wrote in the chat box: The Department of Economic Development and Tourism refer to the site of the accident as Merebank. Can you please correct that to Wentworth? This specific incident has a direct impact on the residents of Austerville (Wentworth). Thanks.]
[Mr William Goldstone wrote in the chat box: Can Engen please enlighten us on when a full community report session will happen? A public meeting, not on Engen’s premises but one in the Austerville community.]
Ms H Winkler (DA) referred to community reimbursement and said many members of the community were affected, especially those in the block of flats. Those people were moved to a B&B, and now they are going to be moved to decantation flats. It is impossible for these individuals to live in a habitable environment. Is Engen going to compensate these people for furniture damaged so that they can furnish these decantation units until their damaged flats are refurbished? What is the interim arrangement for these individuals that now have no food, clothes and furniture? One cannot just dump them in an empty space somewhere. She noted that there was sludge and oil running off a water causeway at Engen onto the beach.
Ms Winkler noted the eThekwini presentation said that there had been no spill into the water causeway. She showed a picture taken by someone over the weekend, which showed oil or black sludge flowing from Engen onto the beach and into the ocean. This is being deposited along the coast of Durban. She asked how that spill would be addressed.
On the remediation of environmental damages, a historic overview was given of numerous incidents. She asked what Engen had done in the wake of those incidents for environmental remediation, and what it would do now for environmental remediation. She requested a report on that topic.
With the long-term plan, one of the recommendations was to have a discussion with EDTEA and other stakeholders about moving the Engen refinery. Not only have there been these repeated incidents, but there are regular flares from the refinery that residents repeatedly report and nothing much is done about it. There are health studies that have been done in the area, where cancer rates are alleged to be 24 times higher than the rest of the country. There are concerns about benzene which is a carcinogenic emission. Those concentrations are 15 times higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. This is a huge health hazard, and now it has become a danger to individuals living around this refinery. What is the timeline for this meeting to discuss the way forward? It cannot be an indefinite discussion. This concern about South Durban Basin has been going on for about 50 years. Timelines were needed: When is the meeting going to take place, and when will there be a resolution to this?
Mr D Bryant (DA) said the Fire Department referred to the cause as a high-pressure fire. Is there an indication yet of the actual root cause of the fire? With the air quality tests, Engen mentioned that a number of air quality samples would be undertaken. Who is going to be undertaking those tests and what will they be testing for? There was mention of getting an independent community liaison in place for the community interaction. From what he had gathered thus far, there is “a bit of a fractious relationship” between the departments, Engen and the community. Recently, a community meeting had to be cancelled because there was a disagreement before that. Can the Committee get more information on how those community engagements are envisaged to take place, taking into account the current fractious environment, and whether the Deputy Mayor will form part of those discussions with the community. There has been a litany of concerns communicated about the various incidents that have taken place with this facility. He asked the provincial department, if it is normal to have this number of reported non-compliance incidents from one facility. Could it expand on whether this is “par for the course”? He noted 27 complaints were received by the Department, and one notice was issued. Could the Department advise on what happened to the other 26 complaints, how those were investigated, and what the results were?
[Ms Winkler wrote in the chat box: It is quite strange that the data from the air monitors did not reveal spiked emission levels?]
[Mr Bruce Dale wrote in the chat box: In response to the question on possible spiked emissions levels, the heat from the fire resulted in thermal lift and the emissions were carried in a northerly direction with a south westerly wind. Dispersion modelling will be conducted to determine possible potentially affected communities downwind of the fire.]
[Mr Njabulo Masuku wrote in the chat box: Weather conditions play a significant role in influencing air pollutants. On the day of the incident, weather conditions favoured convergence at the surface which resulted in a rising air parcel, which ultimately forms coalescence, and condensation took place, hence it rained later that day. The literature says rainfall cleanses air pollution, which is why there were no elevated levels.]
Mr P Modise (ANC) said that he is “extremely passionate about this incident”, and had a number of concerns from the presentations. “No one speaks vociferously about the conditions of our people. One would assume that all their presentations were written by Engen, because theirs is the protection of business and profit”. No one acknowledged that there was a severe inconvenience to the community that lives around Tara Road in Wentworth. The Committee had met with Engen and a number of NGOs in 2019. These NGOs complained about the emissions from Engen. It presented a gloomy picture. As seasoned environmentalists and environmental activists, those at that meeting took serious exception to that 2019 report, as they should do with this recent occurrence.
He believed that a company the magnitude of Engen should have foreseen an incident of this nature could take place. What precautionary or preventative measures did Engen put in place? And why did this incident even take place? His passion and interest in the community is precisely because the Committee are community representatives. Members of Parliament are here at the behest of those who elected them to represent their aspirations and views. One presenter said there is communication with the affected community through social media and outreach activities. The Committee needs to know if there is communication with the affected community and to what extent this communication is impactful and helpful. Did they go to the community and how has this communication taken place? What has been the response of the community? How is the community who is directly affected, receiving this?
The Committee needs to know if the incident report due in 14 days’ time is just going to explain only what these presenters have spoken to. Or is it also going to speak about preventative measures for such incidents in the future? The Committee had not been to the refinery yet but it had resolved to visit it. According to the history of events there, these must have affected a lot of people. How have these people benefited from the Engen social labour plan other than air pollution and air quality management? What benefits did people get from incidents of this nature? To him, it is a problem that the historical events report seems to show a lot of these incidents happening at the same refinery. The report does not speak about the impact these historical events had on people and the environment. In those incidents, what were the findings? Were there repercussions and consequence management? Or does one assume that this is a natural occurrence and nobody is held responsible? If people were found responsible, what were the consequences?
Mr Bongani Mthembu, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) Air Quality/GIS and Youth Development Officer, commend the previous speakers, who touched on crucial points. For him, Mr Modise brought the human element into this conversation – that element had been lacking from the beginning of the meeting – to show that people were affected; communities were affected, and people’s lives were at risk. Engen has been polluting with impunity, and disregarding communities’ health for decades. This is totally unacceptable. SDCEA is an organisation right across the road from the industry.
This industry has refused, on numerous occasions, to meet with SDCEA as an environmental justice and human rights organisation representing South Durban communities. If he were to compare, the refinery next to Engen called SAPREF [Shell & BP South African Petroleum Refineries] has engaged with SDCEA on numerous occasions, because it is a company that is willing to engage on issues that affect the community. Engen has continually ignored SDCEA’s knock on the door. This is total disrespect. This needs to be made clear to the CEO and everyone at Engen.
He wanted to find out from DEFF if under section 30 of NEMA, Engen has consulted or informed the relevant officials within the specific time? EDTEA said in its presentation that the public consultation has been undertaken. He was not sure which public consultation EDTEA was talking about. SDCEA has not engaged with Engen. SDCEA has wanted Engen to engage with the community in a public space. That has not yet taken place. He appealed to the Committee to ensure that Engen meets with the community, and explains exactly what the mitigation plans are going forward, to ensure such incidents will not happen in future. Engen is one problematic company in South Africa when it comes to explosions, gassing, and different chemical smells around its fence line. EDTEA said that the City of eThekwini playing a role in social dialogue. He had not seen that forthcoming. This industry has been above the law, and it has been left to do as it pleases for the past decade. Ms Maclou spoke about 19 complaints from communities. Were those complaints to City Health or to the Engen call centre?
The Chairperson said that he thought Mr Mthembu was a new MP. He would not have allowed Mr Mthembu to speak before the MPs. SDCEA would be making a presentation. He could ask one last question.
Mr Mthembu said Mr Sibusiso Mkhulisi from eThekwini Fire Department spoke about no pollution going towards the community. The community is right around the refinery and it is totally unacceptable and incorrect to say that no pollution affected the community.
Ms S Mbatha (ANC) noted the Committee did not receive the presentation beforehand to prepare for the meeting. This is a very important meeting. Last year, young people presented and had a problem about how Engen is located next to a residential area. Now, there has been a fire. There is no way with such a fire that the pollution does not affect the community. The presenters did not refer to the approved inspection authority on occupational hygiene. All incidents must be reported. If people have been affected, they need to be compensated. The Committee was not told about OHS Act reports. These entities are supposed to do their own inspection but they gave the Committee their external reports. Where are their internal reports that tell of compliance? If Engen did not give its presentation on time, it seems to her that it is hiding the information, because that presentation is very important. It is a key report in debating this.
Ms Mbatha commended the municipality for speaking about environmental health; but she did not see it talk about OHS. In this matter, all of those reports must be included such as the Department of Employment and Labour, and the national department dealing with occupational health. The Committee needs to know about the reports on toxicology measurements. There needs to be a report that people can use going forward, when they need to claim from the Compensation Commissioner. This is a serious incident, which has affected the community. She was very worried as a Member when it had a meeting with young people who are concerned about Sasol. There was one representative from eThekwini who could not answer them that day. And now there is the incident of this fire. If one looks at the photos, the houses are nearby.
The Chairperson said that there would now be responses to the questions. The Committee had mistakenly allowed an NGO to comment. In the process, it was driving the Committee to come to a conclusion without clarity from Engen, DEFF, EDTEA and the municipality.
Mr Hassan apologised and said he had to leave the meeting by 12:40 to attend to another commitment. He would try to respond to most of the questions and his colleagues could also respond. Otherwise, Engen could provide written responses to some of the questions.
Mr Bobby Peek, Director: groundWork, interjected. If Engen was going to leave in 30 minutes’ time, then that was completely disrespectful. The Chairperson needed to tell Engen to stay until all had finished speaking. It had no right to walk out of the meeting until it had heard everything. If the Engen CEO would like to provide a written response, then it could be more meaningful and clear what he has committed to and what he has not committed to. The CEO’s predecessors have lied often, and he would not put it past him and his management to probably also lie. His suggestion would be a written response.
The Chairperson asked if Mr Hassan was saying that all from Engen were leaving.
Mr Hassan replied that it was just him leaving but the rest of the delegation would remain.
Mr Bryant raised a point of order. This is a parliamentary committee dealing with a very serious recent disaster. How important a meeting is it that Mr Hassan would have to leave in 20 minutes after being asked to join the Committee today? This is a very serious issue, and Mr Hassan should stay until the end of the meeting.
The Chairperson said that Mr Hassan explained that he has colleagues who are going to remain. He suggested that the Committee must be clear if they accept Mr Hassan’s proposal (the Chairperson assumed it was a proposal) to say that he has people who can remain who are competent enough. But it is the Committee that must decide if it accepts it. It is true that the Committee invited Engen, the Department, the provincial department, and the municipality. The Committee was hearing Mr Hassan now, and he had explained himself. What is the Members’ response to his request to leave? Would the Committee want to collapse the meeting because one person says that he is leaving?
Ms Mbatha replied that “there is no order in this meeting; there are high-profile people, but they just speak as they wish”. (The Chairperson interjected to say that there was order). She had a problem with Engen, which did not give the Committee its presentation on time. Engen is key to this meeting. She had a problem if Engen wants to leave before the meeting ends. Engen must sit until it receives everyone’s concerns as there is much concern over what happened. The Committee needs to go there; it is an emergency; it needs to arrange with Parliament to go, even if it is in recess to check what is happening now.
The Chairperson said that the gentleman is saying he has another commitment. The decision is whether the Committee allows him to go and continues with the meeting. Was the Committee suggesting it allows Mr Hassan to leave, or is it saying if it allows him to leave, it means that the meeting is collapsed?
Ms Mbatha said that Mr Hassan is disrespecting us. This meeting should be first priority. He must cancel other meetings and sit in this meeting until it is finished; that is very important.
Mr Modise said that from an objective point of view, he was of the assumption that the man who wants to leave is probably attending a commitment of a similar magnitude. Other than that, he would agree that it is disrespectful. If he commits to the Committee that whoever remains is in a position to answer any question that may arise, then he did not see Mr Hassan as being an obstacle, or being disrespectful, if he departed.
The Chairperson asked if the people left behind were competent to respond to anything raised.
Mr Hassan replied that the people remaining should be able to answer questions, but he would try to respond as much as possible while he was still in the meeting.
Mr Peek said that the Committee should give Engen until tomorrow midday to deliver a written response to all questions. That will save time, and would give participants something in writing, with which they can hold Engen accountable. This would allow time for the communities who would be talking as well.
The Chairperson said that the Committee could not allow that; it was the one who convened so the Members who asked questions must be responded to. It would be the Committee’s decision to say later whether if it wants responses in writing.
Mr Hassan said that he would try to respond to the questions he had written down, and some of his colleagues had also written down questions. He started by saying that Engen is a responsible corporate citizen, and it had been in compliance with all of the regulatory frameworks. It had been operating within the agreed limits, and those numbers shared were based on verified data on the measurements taken.
On community engagement: Engen did try to engage with the community as requested on Sunday, but there was a disagreement about some of the members who wanted to be involved, but it has subsequently made progress in terms of agreement. He asked Mr Sykry Hassim, to explain further.
[Mr Tristan Meek wrote in the chat box: Engen has completely ignored the community of Wentworth, Merebank and the Bluff and refuse to [engage] or reply to anyone.]
[Mr Desmond D’Sa wrote: The weather directions on the day resulted in the toxins affecting Wentworth, the Bluff, Treasure Beach and Merebank as well as further west and north and South Durban.]
[Mr Dale wrote: In response to the question on occupational health assessment, following the RCA and determination of compounds released and quantities of emissions, a toxicological assessment will be done to determine the impact on employees and communities.]
[Mr Goldstone wrote: For Engen not to provide the Portfolio Committee with their report and presentation beforehand is indicative of how they treat our community representatives. I’m grateful to you, MP Mbatha, for zooming in on that issue since this conduct is consistent in every respect with how they approach matters.]
[Mr Mthembu wrote: Chairperson, Engen is arrogant, they can’t leave the meeting; this is about them.]
[Mr D’Sa wrote: Engen must stay as the issue is important for the people of South Durban.]
[Ms Winkler wrote: What parameters are measured by the SAAQIA stations in the basin?]
[Mr Dale wrote in response to Ms Winkler: SO2, PM10, BTEX, MET, NOx.]
[Ms Winkler wrote: What was the PM10 and 2.5 count on the day of the fire?]
[Mr Dale replied: The PM count was in the presentation and can be shared amongst Members. Results were within the NAAQS.]
[Ms Winkler wrote: From City Hall or the ones in the basin?]
[Mr Dale replied: City Hall and the Basin.]
[Mr Desmond D’Sa wrote in the chat box: Engen is disrespectful after they created the mayhem.]
[Ms Sherelee Odayar, groundWork wrote: Engen’s lack of interest in this meeting shows how much Engen disregards the community and their issues.]
[Mr Mthembu wrote: Thanks Chairperson, we reject the request from him to leave.]
[Ms Avena Jacklin, groundWork wrote: Disrespectful for Engen Leadership to abandon ship in the middle of a process that all affected parties have gathered and committed their time to.]
[Mr Peek wrote in the chat box: Can Engen please give a written comment by tomorrow.]
[Ms Odayar wrote: We need Engen decision makers to be in the meeting.]
[Mr D’Sa wrote in the chat box: When is the community going to present?]
Mr Hassim said that Engen got feedback from the ward councillor, and is still waiting to hear if the ward councillor accepts Engen's proposal.
Mr Hassan said that in spite of earlier allegations, Engen has already been onsite to verify what happened, and it has started the process of verification and assessing damages. All damages attributable to Engen’s incident will be appropriately addressed. The oil spill “is news” to Engen. Mr Hassan had not received any complaints or reports about oil spills. He asked if the Engen team had received such reports, and to let him know; otherwise, Engen will take the complaint and immediately initiate an investigation.
[Ms Winkler wrote in the chat box: It’s sludge from the attenuation ponds overflowing. The environmental remediation performed in the area. We need a proper stakeholder committee driven by the national ministry.]
On accidents involving benzene and aromatic limits, Engen does online monitoring, and there is also municipal monitoring. Mr Hassan had not heard of any incidents where Engen was in breach, or that it had exceeded the permissible benzene and aromatic levels.
On contributions to communities, Engen has various community engagements; it has a quarterly engagement with the South Durban Community Forum. It was representing the communities around that area. That engagement is ongoing. Prior to COVID-19, Engen had regular quarterly engagement with the community. It also has various corporate social investment (CSI) activities, such as math and science initiatives, and computer donations. It has contributed to the communities neighbouring its refinery.
[Mr D’Sa wrote in the chat box: Engen is dishonest and the other side of the community has been stifled by Engen management. So many lies have been spoken, yet our children, mothers and families are affected by the toxins that are affecting their health and quality of life.]
The report due in 14 days’ time will have more detail. Further investigation on the probable cause will be required, which will probably require a forensic investigation. Such a report will provide the most likely cause of the incident. Mr Hassan said that there will be consequence management if there was dereliction of duty on the part of any staff members. Engen would never operate in a way that endangers staff and the community where it operates. It has always been operating in a very responsible manner, within the regulatory limits. The data it presented is based on facts. As far as he knew, Engen has not violated the rules. Accidents have been reported. It operated within the permissible regulatory framework.
[Ms Winkler wrote in the chat box: Connection broke – will Engen be compensating residents for the furniture and other appliances damaged, food, clothes? They can’t move into empty decantation flats.
What environmental remediation was undertaken in the wake of all the previous incidents?]
Mr Khalid Latiff said that as part of the community engagement, Engen is also appointing an independent community liaison to help manage the issues with the community. It has a structured process in place where the community can bring issues to Engen. It will commit to look at every single piece of feedback that it gets from the community.
[Mr D’Sa wrote in the chat box: We need proper instructions directed at Engen, and City officials did not meet with the community. Also, the MEC did not visit or go to the affected communities that have their housing structures damaged, psychological impacts of the explosion, homelessness, and unemployed.]
[Saide Aly Mansur wrote: We require a health impact and risk assessment for the surrounding communities.]
[Desmond D’Sa wrote: A lot of the chemicals have entered the Stanvac canal and has entered the Cuttings beach into the ocean. Last year Engen and city officials presented in Parliament and failed to provide proper responses to Members of Parliament.]
[Mr Aly Mansur wrote: Health impact assessment reports must be shared with surrounding communities; stakeholder engagement is crucial.]
Ms Shirley Moroka-Mosia replied that Engen is sending the air quality test to Sky Net Laboratories and the parameters it will be investigating are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of sulphur and nitrogen. The laboratory said that some of the tests will be done in South Africa, and where it does not have the capacity to do certain tests, these will be sent to an international laboratory.
On inspections, the Department of Employment and Labour was at Engen. It is usually the one who oversees the implementation of the OHS Act. It would have brought the relevant specialists on industrial hygiene. Besides that, Engen has a health risk assessment every two years which is done by an independent accredited authority. In terms of internal inspections and assessments, Engen is compliant with those requirements. Engen has dispatched a team to investigate oil spilling onto the beach. For now, it does not have details. It will find out more and put measures in place to remediate the issue when it is found.
Mr Bapela replied that Engen did report when the incident occurred. On the same day, in the morning, the Department received an alert report from Engen; hence it was able to attend to the incident. With the alert report, it is compulsory for Engen to report to all relevant authorities, hence on 4 December, a JOC was formed after the officials from the relevant authorities met at Engen.
On the provisions in the report which indicate measures to avoid a recurrence of the incident. In section 30(5) which talks to the 14-day report, this report deals with the measures taken and to be taken to avoid a recurrence. The authorities must monitor the commitments in the report on measures taken to ensure no recurrence of the incident.
Mr Dale Bruce replied that the complaints are dealt with by eThekwini sub-districts and all complaints were investigated; 24 of the 27 were resolved and there were three prosecutions amongst those.
The sludge was dealt with by eThekwini Water and Sanitation. At the time of the actual incident, there was no problem on the beach. eThekwini has become aware of this during the presentation and it will follow up with the relevant department.
On the community impact, eThekwini served notice for a root cause analysis (RCA). When Engen attended the JOC meeting, it was unable to give details of total volumes of diesel and other compounds that may have been released. The municipality is not sure at this stage if it was only diesel, otherwise there could have been other petroleum compounds amongst that; it needs to understand the quantities and to determine the emissions released. The root cause analysis will inform the dispersion modelling. An atmospheric impact report will also be made, taking into account the meteorological conditions on the day such as the south westerly wind, where was the impact downwind? The thermal lift from the heat of the fire lifted the black smoke to just above the level of The Bluff, and then it went in a northerly direction, carried by the south westerly wind. “We need to understand the actual concentrations in the community, and possible worst-affected areas, because you can’t have monitoring stations everywhere”. The municipality has also asked for a toxicological assessment to be conducted in terms of Engen employees, and any affected communities as well. These three specialist studies have to work together to determine the root cause analysis, the atmospheric impact report, and toxicological assessment to determine the impact on the environment, employees and community.
KZN EDTEA response
Mr Nkontwana, HOD, replied that a community member had mentioned that he did not see the City of eThekwini taking part in social dialogues. The decision taken by the province leadership, in terms of its Operation Sukuma Sakhe and intergovernmental relations, is that eThekwini will play a lead role as Engen is within its jurisdiction. eThekwini will be working together with the provincial department. There are political and administrative champions in each district that are playing a role. The City of eThekwini will be a part of ensuring that there is stability, peace and engagement. That is the decision and commitment the provincial department is making.
The provincial department did indicate in its presentation that there will be a public meeting. Last week, when there was engagement, the MEC was part of the discussion. A meeting was meant to take place yesterday. There was a disagreement so the meeting could not take place. Engen has an interdict against two community liaison officers (CLOs) and the community wanted the CLOs to be part of the meeting. It was to be a virtual meeting where Engen would account for what happened. The provincial department would participate as an observer as it did not want to influence the process. It wanted Engen to contribute towards the discussion so that all work together.
On the numerous refinery incidents that have taken place before, the last incident before 2020 was in 2012, and the provincial department issued a directive in 2013, and Engen had complied. On whether those incidents would have led to what has just happened, it cannot make a conclusive decision. It will be informed by the report that will be subject to peer review so that it is independent, impartial and accurate. On the basis of that, it would be able to ensure that it acts accordingly. This area is highly regulated; it followed the law to the letter to ensure proper measures are taken. There was a meeting on 6 December 2020.
On the pollution impact on the communities, one of the quick decisions that the province has taken is engaging with the Department of Health. It will ensure that a health impact study is undertaken to make an assessment. It is important to draw a correlation between pollution that has taken place, and diseases that are affecting people on the ground. For any claim made, it must be proven that there is that correlation. As a province, it has resolved that it will engage on the issue of health.
Municipality further response
Mr Mkhulisi spoke to the root cause of the fire at Engen. Fire Services has not established the root cause at this stage. It understands that the area has been cordoned off by the Department of Employment and Labour, and that is a work in progress. On water pollution, at the time of the incident, Fire Services had to issue an instruction on the water usage for fire-fighting with Engen's understanding, that that will be contained within Engen. As far as the air pollution is concerned, the comment was steering towards the air movement at the time, which was not significant to the point of Fire Services having to evacuate the area adjacent to the site. His comments on the pollution were centred on that. All of this is subject to investigation which is currently underway. Fire Services had noted that due to the explosion at the beginning of the fire, there were communities affected. The impact and the severity are under investigation.
Ms Winkler asked if and when residents will be compensated by Engen for furniture, food, and other items destroyed by the incident. Their stay at the guesthouse ends today, so they have to move by tomorrow to the decantation units. When will residents receive that compensation? On environmental remediation from previous incidents, what did Engen do? It spoke about community initiatives, but how has it mitigated those environmental impacts and degradation of those incidents at its plant?
The Chairperson said the Committee was informed that the provincial department was the lead department, and interaction with the communities was the responsibility of eThekwini metro. Any one of those two or Engen could respond.
Engen further response
Mr Hassan replied that Engen is already in the process of verifying and assessing claims. It will take appropriate action based on the verification and assessment itself. It has proactively provided for residents, specifically six families, who have made a claim that they were affected by the fire. Engen has taken a proactive measure on a good faith basis. In terms of claims, it will have to go through a verification assessment. If people have been impacted as a direct result of the incident, it will address that accordingly. Additionally, Engen has put measures in place to continually drive down emissions. It has always been in compliance with the emission limits.
Ms Moroka-Mosia spoke about previous incidents. The main incident was groundwater and soil contamination with the Tank X104 incident. Immediately after that incident, the contaminated soil was taken to the relevant landfill. Since then, it is doing continuous monitoring. At this point, it has been demonstrated that that particular area is in good shape, and there is no visible contamination. It continues to monitor throughout its entire facility. It has monitoring boreholes that its environment team keeps on checking to ensure that there is compliance and if anything were amiss, that it would not move outside the facility.
After every incident, with the guidance of the authorities, Engen engages an independent health risk assessment consultant to look at the impact of the incident on the community. Based on the findings of those investigations, Engen then put measures in place. With the previous incident, it did that, and findings indicated that the impact on the community did not exceed limits such as air quality. Engen keeps on putting processes in place to ensure that it complies and goes beyond compliance. In its regular meetings with the authorities, it presents its initiatives and what it is doing, so that it can continue to go beyond compliance.
[Mr Goldstone wrote in the chat box: After attending this meeting (it is the first time for me), it is clear why Engen behaves the way it does. If this is how the Portfolio Committee allows these companies to behave, it is no wonder they conduct (themselves that way) towards the communities. The other departments which are supposed to protect the interest of the communities have just been dismal in the quality of presentation as well as the focus of their attention. To ramble on about technical matters without any concern about human dignity, displacement, discomfort, trauma, all as a result of the accident, is not only poor but hopelessly reckless and insensitive. These companies behave this way because they realise just how toothless the government agencies are in addressing these matters directly and to further compound it by a weak Portfolio Committee which can commence a meeting without any information is in a way a complete sell out of the responsibility you owe the community, as the highest authority on the matter and sector. It’s very disturbing.]
[Mr P Modise wrote in reply: William Goldstone, I suggest that you first look deeply into your tone. If we agree with you or not, even if you are not happy with how the Portfolio Committee conducts its business, you do not have a right to address us like that.]
Mr Bobby Peek, Director: groundWork, made an oral presentation. In 1988, a couple of months before Mr Peek’s mother died, she was bedridden. The refinery exploded. He and his dad had to carry his mother to a vehicle and drive into the city centre as the family did not know what was going to happen to Engen next. “Engen has exploded since the day it has started. Engen has come into the valley; it has destroyed us. It has taken away our dignity. It has offered our brothers and sisters work that has killed us". Whether it is an American company, an apartheid company, a Malaysian company, Engen is here to leave us with a toxic legacy, which they admitted to a couple of months ago. They are getting out; they are leaving. They are going to leave us with a toxic time bomb. This is not a problem of Engen only; let us be very clear about this. Who knows Mpilo Sibiya? He died at an oil refinery with his colleague, a young engineer, in July this year, when the Caltex refinery (now owned by a South African consortium) exploded, and killed two of their young, bright, black, upcoming engineers. The oil refinery industry in this country is crumbling.
We know that we have to move away from fossil fuels. Our President Cyril Ramaphosa has said very clearly that it is time for a just transition. It is time to recognise that we have to move forward. When we move forward, we cannot leave any African behind. But that is what Engen is going to do. It is going to move, it is going to leave the valley, and it is going to leave us with an unjust future. The first thing to recognise is that all we are asking is to get what the President has promised us: A just transition away from Engen. That is really critical. But we cannot do this if we do not have an open democracy. An open democracy is not when Engen tells parliamentarians; it is the community in South Durban who can come and talk to them. This it has always done from day one. He quoted from a document written in 1995: ‘One problem stems from the company choosing to select individuals from the community, rather than inviting civic organisations to send representatives. The second thing is that Engen questioned the bona fides of community members who were at the table’. What is critical to understand is that in 1995 to 2002/03, community people could get any documents we wanted from Engen and from government. We got that because we closed the gates and we protested. And we were in the honeymoon of our democracy. Now Engen will not give us the Scheduled Trade Permit; the City Mayor will not allow us to have the Scheduled Trade Permit. That is undemocratic. We have to reverse that trend. If we do not have democracy, we are not going to have a just transition, and Engen will leave us the legacy of the many, many Engen accidents which will continue until they close down. His understanding of the problem is that Engen does not maintain its operations because they are going to sell. Would you service your car if you are going to sell it next month? So why would Engen service its oil refinery if it is going to get rid of it in two years’ time? That is the reality.
Finally, it is about reparations. It is about going back to Stanvac, Pegasus Oil Company, Mobil, Gencor, and all the financial institutions that have been involved in propping up Engen, and getting reparations for the community of South Durban. Parliament cannot allow a R250-300m bailout of Engen. That money should be invested in South Durban for a just transition. That is critical, and that is the decision you have to make today – a decision about open democracy, a decision about calling for reparations, and a decision about a just transition. Last night, community members put down R2 000 to assist the families. This morning, we put down another R4 500 to assist them. What are you putting down, as Engen and as parliamentarians, to ensure that the families have a Christmas, and not suffer the consequences of Engen’s mishaps. Those are the three things let us remember: An open democracy, a just transition, and reparations starting now, not in ten years’ time.
Mr Rico Euripidou, Environmental Epidemiologist and groundWork Environmental Health Campaigner, gave an oral presentation. We have heard from the City officials and others about technical matters such as air quality monitoring, and if air quality standards were exceeded. We as a community, working with the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) have been demanding online real time benzene monitoring and particulate matter sampling is undertaken and the information disclosed to the communities. When the multi-point plan was established in the early 2000s, the information on air quality monitoring was available; it was online. Community people and the authorities could act on an exceedance and concerns. At the time, there were plans to establish a cancer registry to address community concerns, and the real, lived experiences of communities who were experiencing many cancers in the South Durban Basin, around the refineries. But all of that systemically deteriorated. It was almost as if there was wilful neglect.
By 2007, the air quality monitoring stations were offline; they were not reporting to the South African National Air Quality Information Service. The monitoring stations were left to go into disrepair. That information is no longer publically available. It is no longer available in real-time. These are big concerns.
When the authorities reported the air quality monitoring on the day of the fire, they indicated that there was a strong south westerly wind blowing and there was thermal uplift. In this respect, you can almost say it was an act of God that the meteorology was in favour of the community not being affected. But the next time it happens, if it happens in winter, when the conditions are very still in Durban, and there is not so much turbulence, what will happen then? We need to put in place the measures so that we have a real-time understanding of what the air quality is in South Durban. We know that in summer, there is very little air pollution because the wind is blowing. But we do not have a real sense of the pollution in Durban because the monitors are not measuring for the right parameters. We need to be measuring online benzene and small particulate matter that causes the most important health effects. That information needs to be available to the community.
[Mr Peek wrote in the chat box: Chemical factory burning in Durban now – Pine Town.]
[Mr Njabulo Masuku wrote: Please visit http://www.saaqis.environment.gov.za – it should provide you with more clarity and clear some allegations.]
[Mr Rico Euripidou wrote: South Durban should be declared as a priority area in terms of section 18 of the AQA – alongside the urgent development of an Air Quality Monitoring Plan in concurrence with section 20 implementation regulations to enforce AQMP.]
[Mr Saide Aly Mansur wrote: We need to review how the monitoring and plume studies are performed and why no monitoring stations have been installed. Emergency response and disaster management plan with appropriate training to be initiated. Stakeholder engagement by Engen has failed as they are disconnected with reality of the events.]
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance: Air Quality and Pollution in South Durban
Mr Bongani Mthembu, Air Quality/GIS and Youth Development Officer: South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) mentioned that a Member spoke about youngsters who came to present in November 2019. He was one of those youngsters. He would be sharing a similar but updated presentation.
He gave insight into major incidents in the South Durban Basin from 2000 to June 2018, including fires and explosions with more than 62 major incidents since 2000; averaging over three major incidents per year.
No emergency plan for South Durban communities
The incidents outlined are a brief selection of numerous industry-related pollution incidents that occur in the area daily. South Durban is highly hazardous and lacking an emergency response plan. Although residents have been asking for a proper emergency evacuation plan and communications procedure since 1997, they have still been left unattended. The Constitution states it is the people that must come before industry, and the evidence presented here of major incidents demands an emergency plan for these communities.
Major Industry Accidents
- SAPREF Refinery: 21 April 2004
• Power failure resulted in a fire in distillation unit with huge clouds of thick black smoke over South Durban.
• Affected areas: Isipingo, Prospecton, Merebank, Wentworth, Austerville, Bluff, Brighton Beach, Mobeni Heights, Edwin Swales, Clairwood, Montclair and Yellowwood Park.
• SAPREF claimed that the shutdown was safe, although surplus gases were burnt off at the flare stacks.
• Residents moved out of the area to get out of contact with the dense smoke.
- Engen Refinery: 16 April 2006
• Large explosion shook Wentworth and Merebank residents, leaving one worker injured.
• The worker was burnt when asphalt fell on his arms as the fire was being extinguished.
• The fire raged for 20 minutes before being brought under control, located at the vacuum unit producing oil from crude in the early stages of the refining process.
• Residents left and sought refuge at Clairwood Racecourse.
- Engen Refinery: 11 October 2006
• Wentworth, Merebank, Treasure Beach residents report a pall of black smoke from the stacks for an hour.
• Cause: an electrical shutdown prompting fuel gas to be sent into the flares.
• Residents sought information if they should evacuate but received no help.
- SAPREF refinery: 28 October 2006
• Fire in diesel de-sulphurising unit.
• Caused 3-hour burning and smoke throughout South Durban, affecting residents.
• Residents on refinery fence-line left homes and sought refuge at the Clairwood Racecourse.
- IVS Fire: August 2007
Engen refinery: 19 November 2007
• Storage tank with 7 million litres of petrol burned to the ground for 58 hours.
• Residents evacuated to Clairwood Racecourse.
- Fire at Engen Refinery: October 2011
- Fire at KZN Oil: 26 March 2015
• Fire erupted on property directly across from Clairwood Racecourse.
• People and workers were evacuated.
- Transnet Fire: March 2017
- Engen Fire 04/12/2020
• Flats were burnt
• Child suffers from face and body burns.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) chemicals
• Benzene reacts with other chemicals in the air to form a toxic stew, and forms part of the VOC group
• Benzene causes harmful effects to bone marrow and decrease in red blood cells, leading to anaemia.
• It can cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system.
• Benzene is a proven carcinogen.
• Benzene at high levels can kill you. Workers in the USA have died or are dying from Hodgkin’s disease, leukaemia and lymphoma – linked to exposure to benzene.
• People with asthma, children and the elderly are at greater risk.
Graphs were shown of benzene levels between August & September 2020 (Slide 24), between 2019-2020 (Slide 25) and SDCEA air monitoring results (Slides 26-27.) A newspaper headline "Children gassed by factory leak" accompanied by an image of a child wearing an oxygen mask was shown.
No stakeholder forum for Air Monitoring
• As joint stakeholders we are side lined on incident investigations/ inquiry
• No feedback to communities from officials
• Numerous letters on the air pollution have been written to eThekwini mayor with no response
• Provincial level inaccessible.
• No access to Scheduled Trade Permit.
South African Constitution
• Section 24: Environment Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing;
• Section 41: Principles of co-operative government and intergovernmental relations
All spheres of government and all organs of state within each sphere must secure the well-being of the people of the republic
• Section 32: Access to information – Any information held by the state including environmental information According to Principle 10 of Rio Declaration, “each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available.”
City Health passive sampling
• Not enough passive sampling to cover hotspots areas and current positioning questionable.
• Continues fence line monitoring as this is a priority for us, Benzene/VOC monitoring is a key focus as it is linked to cancer.
Mr Desmond D’Sa, SDCEA Office Coordinator, gave an oral presentation. SDCEA respects the Committee because it has been presenting to the Committee over the years and it has given SDCEA a voice and it thanks the Committee for that. The Committee has listened to members of the public presenting real evidence against the petro-chemical refineries. That has helped as it tells us that we are equal before the law, but more importantly, our parliament respects the input of each and every one of us.
“This incident happened on Friday, I was out there at 07:00 in the morning, and I saw the trauma; I saw people running out of their homes. There were thousands of people on Tara Road. They weren’t in their homes because their homes were shaken. It was like a bomb dropped down on us. Everybody within a radius of 10 to 15 kilometres, could hear that bomb going off at Engen.
Even the car windows of those driving past on Tara Road were shattered. There are hundreds of homes that have structural damage and had their windows damaged. There were people preparing to go to school and work that have been traumatised. Government has not come near those people. I’m appealing to Parliament today. The reason I’m so passionate is because people have been affected, and none of the presentations here speak to that. We are all traumatised. [Government] should have ensured that over the weekend, we had a proper medical facility set up. The clinics were closed over the weekend; Government should have come and opened them up, and made sure that our people got the counselling, got the treatment. We have a child who was severely burned; she ended up in hospital. Engen did not go near the family, and neither did Government. Not one Government official has gone near the child and the granny who were burnt. To say that it is an act of God; God would never burn human beings like us, God would protect us. I think that’s the problem. People have been traumatised. What interventions and assessments are planned? Nothing. We’ve heard nothing come through today. The physical impacts the blast had on the community; that was huge; people are trying to make it look like it was small. That was the biggest blast we’ve heard in years. This year, during COVID-19, when Engen was allowed to re-open, it blew up; the Engen refinery affected the community. We’ve heard the City officials saying that they prosecuted [people]. But where is that prosecution? It is lying on the desk of the legal department in Durban, and nothing more. Why? [On the] damage, they [officials] are not answering their phones. None of them at Engen, when people are reporting and calling that hotline, the phones are off. Nobody’s responding to all the calls. People are coming to us as the NGOs to look after and deal with this problem. Engen does not want to meet us; they want to determine who they can meet with. Engen wants to isolate our people, and yet the damages [have] happened to our communities. What I’m suggesting: We need the Committee to come and we’ll take you around and show you the damage, so that you see for yourself the lies and the deceit presented here today”.
“The materials that were emitted from there: They do not have monitoring stations on that side of The Bluff. The monitoring stations have not captured [the full picture]. If you look at the data from the weather station, it will tell you that they are not being honest with the truth. In Alabama Road where the flats were damaged, there is no monitoring station there. These monitoring stations are on the other side, and that would have picked it up. But now they play down the issue, and say, ‘Look, there’s no pollution, people weren’t affected’. They are dishonest because they know that there are no monitoring stations in Treasure Beach, Alabama Road, Wiest Road, Croton Road, as well as on The Bluff side, on that map showing where people are affected. Even the City has not been honest here. People were affected; people were struggling to breathe. At a time of COVID-19, people had to close windows and doors; we are talking about no safety zone, no plan, no emergency plan. How many years have we been going about this? Why isn’t our government really listening to the people? We have had over 30 big explosions and fires coming out of this refinery. People are saying that there are only three or four explosions. Look at the evidence; the evidence far outweighs what Engen presented today. We’ve had 30 explosions and fires that had a huge impact. This unit that blew up on Friday, it blew up five times already. Engen is inconvenient with the truth, they should have said, ‘This is what has happened’. Maybe it was before their time, during other management, but it happened in the same unit. How many times must that unit blow up? Must it kill thousands of people before we see action? The provincial government and the municipal council have not been honest here in relating the facts on the table and presenting it. Imagine presenting something, but the community, 120 000 people, are not even considered or even spoken about. Why is it that we are not relevant in this issue that impacted us? The school across the road (I’m happy that the principal is on this call); the hall is damaged. The windows are damaged. The school across the other side, Settlers Primary School, the children were traumatised. Nothing has been spoken about that; there was nothing about the school that has been damaged. They have not presented the facts. They have not had the decency to go across the road to Settlers Primary School and Fairvale High School to go and apologise to the principal, his staff and the teachers. That is decency. That is engaging with people. And they don’t do it. The government officials that came, how is it that they went to Engen, but right across the road where the damage has taken place, where teachers have been affected, nobody goes there. People are on their own; they have to go to doctors; they have to use their last money to get medical attention. I don’t think that’s fair. We highly rate you as a Committee. The only reason we came to the Committee is because everything else, the doors were shut. Here’s our government, not talking to any of us, don’t give a damn about us. Must we all die before the Government reacts? That’s why I think this meeting is so critical. I think you need to, as the Chair and the Committee, take ownership and give directions, and serve them with notices that they must comply with. I think we would trust you more than anybody else, I think our community – schools, NGOs, doctors, medical personnel, taxis – every single person in our community has been affected. Yet Engen wants to tell us who they will talk to. The child was shown here; I made sure that you captured her photo. Her and her father were in my office. It’s a sad affair; they got affected, but they’ve got to beg the Engen refinery to pay for medical bills. There’s no food. These people are left homeless. Their clothing is all damaged, their furniture is all damaged. The groceries that they bought are all damaged. Where do they go to? What home do they go to? Why isn’t our Government leading by example and ensuring that Engen takes responsibility? Today we heard Engen is denying everything – everything is aright; nobody has been affected. But people have been affected, in a bad way, not only with their injuries, but also their homes. Who is going to take care of it? Engen will get away with it”.
The Chairperson interjected to ask Mr D’Sa if he could conclude.
Mr D’Sa said, “We need the Committee to ensure that this does not end today. This process must ensure that there is more dialogue, that there is a clear process, that Parliament is involved, and all government tiers. We as a community must be part of it. You cannot investigate yourself. The investigation must include the community around the table. We can bring our technical experts and assess the refinery. We cannot allow them to go it their own, because it will be just a ticking-the-boxes job. We trust the Committee; we have been working with you for quite some time. We know that Members of Parliament have listened to the cries of the community. Now we need some action. It cannot be that you are going to hear us all the time [Zulu 2:29:56-2:30:00 in YouTube].
The Chairperson said that the meeting had exceeded the original end time.
As Mr Mthembu had network connection difficulties earlier, he was allowed to resume his presentation. The Engen refinery fire of 19 November 2007 was one of the incidents where South Durban communities experienced trauma up until today as they were not informed of an emergency evacuation plan on what do in case of such incidents. At the Engen refinery, there are a number of pipelines running through Tara Road going to the biggest storage facility in the southern hemisphere called the Island View Storage Facility. It passes through people’s homes. Some of these pipelines are from SAPREF and some Engen. The Fairvale Secondary School is just across the road.
In the Friday 4 December 2020 incident it was a normal day for school. Previously, communities were informed that in case of an emergency, they need to run to the “safe haven” of Clairwood Racecourse. Today, that place has been sold and privatised. In the case of an explosion or emergency, the communities did not have a safe haven to run to. There was no procedure in place especially by City Disaster Management that stated in such cases how people will be transported to a safe haven. The refinery is surrounded by people who felt the tremor. To date, Engen has not done a proper investigation into how many people have lost their properties and their belongings. This refinery is “on its last”; it is “rotten to the core”. It needs to shut down. We cannot continue to understand the entire trauma that Engen is causing to communities. This has been going on for years. Engen is a refinery that has been gassing the community, especially those on Badulla Road which is a one of the hotspot areas, where even now, depending on wind direction, one will always find high levels of toxic smells emanating from Engen. When the City of eThekwini presented, it did not do justice in ensuring that this industry is held accountable. There are air quality monitoring stations but they are not in good condition. That poses the question if they are fully functional.
He showed the burned block of flats in Wentworth. The flats “blew up” because of the incident at Engen.
Mr Mthembu showed the image of the child with a burned face. Such an incident traumatises children, especially girl children. It would be a problem for the child to interact with her peers, because she is no longer the person they knew. Such incidents can cause children to commit suicide because of depression.
He spoke about the health impacts of VOCs. One of these, benzene was a carcinogen with harmful effects on human health. SDCEA takes air samples which are shipped to a reputable lab in Pretoria, where the samples are analysed. The results are given within a few weeks and the data is shared with the public. SDCEA air monitoring results show there are challenges to the communities of Merebank and Wentworth in particular, because they are living alongside this industry. Engen is in a residential area. It is not in an industrial zone. This alone speaks to the health impacts the refinery is causing the communities.
There was no stakeholder forum for air monitoring. Communities do not have access to the Scheduled Trade Permit. He noted the relevant sections in the Constitution. With section 24 on a safe environment, it would be a “fruitless exercise” for communities to challenge an industry because we do not have the capacity to do so. Section 41 on principles of co-operative government and intergovernmental relations is not seen being practised by officials. On Section 32: Access to information, the public cannot access this information as industries such as Engen are a law unto themselves. Industries are not willing to engage with public representatives because they think they are not responsible for giving answers that are needed on behalf of communities. Engen has not adhered to the legislation and bylaws of South Africa, and this continues to happen because the City has allowed it. It is not playing a proactive role to ensure industries are held accountable.
Prof Rajen Naidoo, School of Nursing and Public Health, University of KwaZulu-Natal, closed off with a technical input on the references to standards and that pollution monitoring detected that standards were not exceeded. It is important for Members to know that South African standards and benchmarks are not necessarily health-based standards. The South African standards are not in keeping with the current WHO standards, nor with the standards about to be proposed by WHO. Those standards are at least double these. Both government representatives and Engen constantly made reference to the fact that the pollutant levels measured below these standards. “It’s one thing to say you’ve met a legal standard, it’s another to say you’ve protected the health of people by keeping your levels low. We do not know the true effects of exceeding the limits”. The true health effects of the explosion on the community are unknown. It is also not valid to base responses on the number of complaints that officials receive. Most of the people in these communities are so used to having no response so they do not even bother to report health problems. Engen was at pains to report the sulphur dioxide levels but one needs to know that sulphur dioxide is not the key pollutant of interest here. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as particulate matter. These have not been reported and there is no evidence of the standards used for these. For all of these points, we need to be wary of the so-called scientific standards that are being put forward in these investigations.
Prof Patrick Bond on Behalf of SDCEA
Prof Patrick Bond, School of Government: University of the Western Cape, spoke on behalf of SDCEA as a specialist in the climate justice field. He pointed out that hydrocarbons coming from the refinery, especially CO2 and methane, which emissions could have long-term effects, tend to be too often neglected. He was very concerned about the flaring and leakage, and the CO2 emissions.
He strongly endorsed the idea that a climate debt or reparations, are owed by Engen to detox, but also to decarbonise. One of the most embarrassing incidents is 10 October 2011 when a fire broke out at Engen and hospitalised 100 students next door at Settlers Primary School. Engen oil splattered on their skin and they were traumatised. This happened six weeks before Durban hosted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP17. These accidents keep happening.
It seems that, again and again, South Africa has gone “climate blind”. Criteria pollutants being monitored are CO, lead, NO2, ozone, particulate matter, and SO2. Prof Bond would ask the government officials, “Are you not watching what is happening with the crisis causality from CO2 and methane?” If one puts the CO2 equivalents together, it is often said that South Africa has a big problem, because South Africa is the 11th highest per capita emitter in the world (about 9 tonnes per person). When it comes to doing the emitting, it is extremely biased towards race and class; “people like myself are doing far more” (i.e. people who are white and middle-class). He spoke about how the economy is “carbon-addicted”.
South Africa is not just a villain; it is also a victim. There were two ‘rain bombs’ that hit the area in October 2017 (104 mm in one day) and April 2019 (168 mm). The latter killed 71 people (mostly black, mostly women) in Durban and the KZN South Coast. The publicity went to the rich in Amanzimtoti. President Ramaphosa said, “This is partly what climate change is about, it just hits when we least expect it”. These rain events hit all over Durban and the South Coast. President Ramaphosa acknowledged at the time that there was a climate debt; the President noted that South Africa has a treasury for emergency situations, and that resources would be mobilised in a big way. But the resources were not enough. The City of eThekwini said that it needed about R680 million just for the houses that were destroyed, much less the priceless lives of 71 people. Only R90 million was made available to storm-affected residents. The climate chaos did not teach eThekwini, it is not looking at climate. Durban’s adaptation and resilience strategies were found wanting. Poor, female-headed households were the main victims, and still owed the most. Who should pay the climate debt? Prof Bond stated that it should be those who polluted.
New information was published in June 2020 in Nature Climate Change (among the most rigorous in the field) on oil refinery greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (expressed as CO2-equivalents per barrel). The scientists modelled emissions based on knowledge of about 93% of global refining throughput, and as a result drew these conclusions, that allow a generalisation about oil refining around the world:
1. Global refining carbon intensity at country level and crude level is 13.9–62.1 kg of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) per barrel and 10.1–72.1 kgCO2e per barrel with a volume-weighted average of 40.7 kgCO2e per barrel (equivalent to 7.3 gCO2e MJ−1) and energy use of 606 MJ per barrel;
2. Third-largest global source of stationary GHG emissions (after power, petroleum, natural gas systems), accounting for 40% of emissions from oil and gas supply chain and 6% of all industrial GHG emissions;
3. Several jurisdictions have implemented GHG emissions regulations that affect the refining sector, and private investors have started to consider emissions in their decisions.
At Engen’s refinery, if emissions are at the higher end – 60kgCO2e/day per barrel – then the proper estimate of CO2e emissions is approximately 2.25 megatons annually. South Africa’s entire estimated emissions output in 2016 was 450 megatons per year (after a peak closer to 480 megatons in 2008), leaving Engen responsible for 0.5% of the entire economy’s emissions, only at the refinery site. The oil refining industry must be decarbonised; we must get off these fossil fuels. The refinery in Wentworth should be the first to be closed, because it is exploding all the time. It was built in 1966, and is extremely inefficient. Engen should also pay reparations.
Since South Africa’s current carbon tax imposes a very low taxation rate (just $0.43/ton compared to Sweden’s $132/ton), at the lowest end the tax would raise around R15m annually from Engen assuming the CO2e is 2.25 megatons per year. A much greater amount of what the community terms ‘reparations’ will be required to detox and rebuild the Wentworth refinery area, so that climate justice can be realised. Parliament is an important institution for debating these modalities – its failure to do so will deprive future generations of fair, environmentally-safe lives.
SDCEA has put thousands of people on the streets in protest against climate change. Protestors have also shown the links between climate change and food sovereignty, small-scale fishing, etc. Many young people have engaged in climate activism; those are the children that government has a responsibility to. Looking at how few in government seem to be interested in this crisis, caused by the Global North, in Western countries and in South Africa, by Malaysians and the black empowerment partner, Phuthuma Nhleko; those people need to pay a climate debt so that South Africa can get a just transition. The Alternative Information and Development Centre has a strong plan, and there is the Climate Justice Coalition that includes the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) and 350.org. There is also a climate justice charter. He hoped the Committee would interact with these people and take seriously the problem of Engen, not just as an incredibly criminal institution in South Durban, with its repeated explosions and constant emissions that hurt people there, mostly people of colour, but also hurt all of us through the climate catastrophe.
The Chairperson asked Engen to respond.
Mr Hassan said that there had been many questions and allegations, so it was a bit difficult to respond to all without specific information. The best thing to do would be if those who made allegations provide supporting documents; Engen would respond accordingly. Engen is a proud South African company, regardless of who its shareholders are. It has been operating responsibly, respecting the rules of the law, and operating within the boundary. It is also trying to minimise its emissions and tries to find what the best available technology is. It has been continually trying to improve its emissions; the specifications go beyond the limit, as per the legislation, as was shared with the Committee. It is a responsible corporate citizen, and it has been engaging with the community in the area. It has a specific forum where it engages with SDCEA on a quarterly basis. During COVID-19, it has missed one engagement. Engen would take note of the reports given by the various parties, and it will validate and respond accordingly. It would verify if certain pollution was coming from it.
Mr Modise said that the Committee is responsible for provision of oversight. It is not a referee or mediator between the stakeholders involved. It is the Committee’s responsibility to listen to both sides of the story, apply the principles of natural justice before it arrives at a determination. It is also important to emphasise to communities that the Committee represents them and their aspirations. Communities come to the Committee and say that their health and the environment are at risk due to Engen in Wentworth or elsewhere. Had it not been for COVID-19, the Committee would have gone to the Engen refinery. Parliament is now on recess; how far is the Committee with arranging a visit? This situation is abnormal, and it needs urgent attention. The Committee serves at the people’s behest. There are trauma cases. There is a disaster; the livelihoods of people are at stake. It was his view that the Committee should go to Durban as matter of extreme urgency. It should meet all stakeholders involved, and not only on virtual platforms. Of course, it would comply with COVID-19 regulations. Let us be invited to the community; we should not rely only on the presentations made here. Those directly affected do not have access to Zoom and social media. Where possible, led by the City, the councillors, and all parties involved, let the Committee go and engage with that community, and get their feeling on what it recommends should be done, and it will make a determination as a Committee, and go back to the Minister with a clear directive.
The Committee had heard the point that Engen must close down, yet it is not fully satisfied. This does not mean that it is dismissing the representations by the stakeholders in this meeting. The Committee still had to go and satisfy itself, because the reports furnished to this Committee might not be accurate. We find ourselves in the middle between those for the community and those for business. The Committee was not going to dismiss either of them, but it must go to Durban to make an informed recommendation on what needs to happen moving forward.
Ms Winkler said Prof Bond had made a valid point that the resolution does not end with the shutting of the refinery. There are carbon debts to be paid in that community, and there is the lasting legacy of the health and environmental impacts. The Committee needs to ensure that these debts are paid, and to provide close oversight of this process, to ensure that the community will benefit before Engen leaves the South Durban Basin, and that people get jobs and there are reparations. On the climate crisis, we need this rapid acceleration towards decarbonising the economy. All these plants risk becoming stranded assets. As a Committee, we really need to ensure that this is something we take into consideration when we look at all the petrochemical industries in the South Durban Basin. She seconded the suggestion to go to Durban and see exactly what is going on.
The Chairperson said the National Department, the provincial department and the municipality are government and have authority to do oversight. The provincial department and municipality should formally engage communities around this plant. If there are challenges, those two must engage with those challenges. The two must not wait for the Committee to descend on Durban. The municipality must take responsibility. It must take note of the concerns raised by the NGOs about the communities. There was general agreement about this social interaction; it has not gone the best way. He suggested that there must be intervention at the highest level, and at provincial and municipal levels. The Committee expects feedback from these government levels. For purposes of satisfying itself, the Committee would note the possibility of going to Durban despite COVID-19 and Parliament being on recess.
It was not calling parties to this meeting to say that the municipality must not take charge and facilitate relations with the community, because it is responsible for those communities. For all the concerns raised, one would expect action where action is possible. Where there is a need for explanation, government must give this to communities directly. When the Committee has time, there must be a follow-up on what government has done. Generally, it is a good start. The Committee met the NGOs in 2019, as well as the municipality and the province. The Committee will be following up on the concerns raised. There are specific issues that the Committee would want to see followed up. There must be a way forward for all those in the meeting that have different responsibilities. The national department, provincial government and the municipality must follow up on specific issues. The JOC must do its work. The Committee is doing oversight. It will check logistics for visiting Durban. It hopes it will be able to get there. Government must continue. The Committee needs to be clear that Parliament will not take lead on policy when it comes to a just transition. Government has a position on the just transition and there is direction on what must be done. The Committee wants to engage everybody, but on the basis of policy, and on the basis of the direction that Government is taking.
[Chat box - Fairvale Secondary School representative: Thank you for this opportunity to engage with all of the parties involved. This has been a beneficial engagement.]
Committee members are public representatives, so it would be good to get closer to the ground and understand matters, not on the basis of presentations. But Government must get to the ground before everybody else who comes in to do oversight. The Committee is happy engaging with communities; it should be a practice and “something that we get used to”. Democracy implies that if somebody asks a question, there given an explanation. The test of that would be if one is able to convince communities why things they are expecting cannot happen or why they can happen. “Engagement all the way”. This session was meant for the Committee to be updated on what is being done, and the Committee did get that. Those who are affected, they felt that even if one gets a response on the update, one must also get it from the Committee. Ultimately, Committee will get to Durban and see what comes out of it.
He thanked the Deputy Minister and her team, the KZN HOD and eThekwini Deputy Mayor and their teams. Community engagement is important.
Mr Nkontwana, KZN HOD, said that he was happy to have a discussion with the Deputy Mayor from eThekwini. Engaging with communities should be a priority.
The meeting was adjourned.
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