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Future of South Africa’s second largest refinery unknown as cost of repairs estimated at £40 million

09 February 2021

The cost to conduct repairs on an Engen refinery in Durban after a December 2020 explosion has been estimated to be around 800 million Rand (£39.1m). The estimation came from an oversight visit conducted by the country’s Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries which said the refinery would remain closed until the refinery submits an investigation report and preventative measures to the relevant authorities.

Image: Engen
Image: Engen

The explosion and subsequent fire on December 4 caused operations at the 120,000 barrel per day refinery to be shut down. Nobody was injured in the incident in Wentworth, Durban, however significant damage was caused to the plant and surrounding buildings, including a nearby block of apartments which caught fire.

On February 5, the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries revealed its estimation for the cost of repairs and said it had been told by Engen that the operating permit for the refinery had been revoked, due to the explosion, until the refinery submitted an investigation report and preventative measures to relevant authorities.

South African news site TimesLIVE reports that the committee is concerned with an insufficient report on the ongoing investigation into the blast. Engen appointed an independent body to conduct an investigation into the December explosion, however nothing has been published yet.
TimesLIVE reports that it is in possession of a brief document that was recently presented to the portfolio committee by Engen. The document shows that, according to Engen, a preliminary investigation suggested the explosion was caused by “the failure of vendor-supplied equipment”. However, the portfolio committee has said Engen's report was inconclusive.

In a statement, the portfolio committee said it also met with the affected community representatives and associated stakeholders. They expressed lack of trust in Engen, the municipality and the provincial government due to their lack of holding Engen accountable for the incident. The committee was told that the community suffers long-term health conditions such as asthma, cancer, diabetes and other respiratory illnesses, and Engen does not take responsibility. Similarly, Engen has not repaired damages caused by the explosion in people’s homes.

The committee resolved that it would not accept the blame-shifting by Engen, instead of taking responsibility for the explosion and other associated problems. The information supplied by Engen contradicts what Members of the committee saw in photos about chemicals flowing into the community water canal from Engen. The committee has requested Engen to submit all reports related to the incident and it will give feedback to the communities after considering and deliberating on all submissions, including from community members.
The portfolio committee is now aiming to facilitate meetings between Engen and the local community before any recommendations on the refinery's future are offered.

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