04 December 2020, Johannesburg — The explosion at the Engen Oil Refinery in Wentworth, Durban is the third environmental disaster to occur in KwaZulu-Natal within the past three months, the former being Transnet’s crude oil spill into the Umbilo river and the motor vehicle accident caused by a fuel tanker, which claimed 12 lives. In response to the ongoing crisis, Greenpeace Africa Climate and Energy Campaigner Nhlanhla Sibisi has said:
“The fossil fuel industry has proven repeatedly that it is a threat to the environment and human health. It is more apparent than ever before that what South Africa needs is a decisive phasing-out of the fossil fuel industry – this is a matter of life or death, an imperative to put people over profits .
“Air pollution is costing South Africa billions in healthcare and loss of lives. Rampant
respiratory problems that have afflicted communities in the South Durban Basin have been as a result of Engen’s operations, including other refinery related processes. Minister Barbara Creecy’s reluctance to phase-out fossil fuels and begin a thorough just transition, is endangering the quality of life and safety of millions of South Africans”.
Engen recently revealed a methyl mercaptan gas leak had occurred in July, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The community of Wentworth is regularly exposed to toxic gases which may cause respiratory diseases such as asthma, coughing, chest pain, choking, bronchitis, symptoms such as skin irritations, nausea and headaches are common. The long term health impacts of this disaster on health will be devastating, including cancer and congenital disabilities and neurological damage. Meanwhile, these communities are forced to endure a foul smell from surrounding industries on a continuous basis.
“It has become clear that Minister Barbra Creecy’s leniency towards carbon majors is costing South Africans their health, wellbeing and lives. Greenpeace demands that Minister Barbara Creecy pursues criminal charges against Engen as a repeat offender of air pollution violations.
“This is not the first time, and it won’t be the last unless decisive action is taken. The time for complacency is over.”
 Oil Refineries, your health and the environment: what you need to know: https://www.groundwork.org.za/factsheets/Oil%20Refineries.pdf
 Engen Gas leak in July: https://www.iol.co.za/dailynews/news/ethekwini-municipality-wants-engen-refinery-to-ensure-gas-leaks-end-after-pungent-smell-causes-widespread-community-anger–5fd971e1-fd8f-4a76-9f1f-8b16203c31f4
3. Greenpeace Africa Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) Pollution Hotspots in South Africa: 2019-2020 report of November 2020 outlines the following recommendations for Emissions Reduction
- The South African Government to halt all investment in fossil fuels and shift to safer, more sustainable energy sources, such as wind and solar,
- Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy to strengthen SO2 emissions standards by reinstating South Africa’s 500 mg/Nm3 minimum emission standard and applying flue gas pollution control technology at power plants, smelters, and other industrial SO2 emitters,
- South Africa’s National Air Quality Officer, Dr Thuli Khumalo, to enforce existing minimum emission standards, South African Government and that coal-fired power stations or units that cannot comply with existing standards be decommissioned,
- the South African Government to ensure the development of a comprehensive and inclusive Just Transition programme that moves the country away from the use of fossil fuels to cleaner and sustainable energy.
4. Greenpeace Africa has responded to Eskom’s application for postponement from compliance with Minimum Emissions Standards previously. The Press Release can be found here.