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March 25, 2009 / Mridul

China Tries to Censor EIA Report of Proposed Oil Refinery in Environmentally Sensitive Area


proposed oil refinery project north of Hong Kong has ran into trouble after acquisitions that the government kept the administration in Hong Kong out of the discussion about the potential negative environmental impacts of the project. The episode highlights the weak EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) regulations in China.

The proposed $5 billion refinery-cum-storage facility, which is to be build in the Nansha district of the Guangdong province, would be one of the largest in Asia and is a collaborative project of Sinopec and the Kuwait Oil Company. According to media reports, the EIA report has not been made public and there has been no public discussion and scrutiny of the project (and the proposed alternatives) and its environmental impacts.

It is understood that the authorities have also directed website managers across China to block any attempts to discuss the environmental impacts of the project on the Internet. Following is the translation of the message sent to various Chinese news websites

“Environmental impact report for the Guangdong Nansha integrated oil refinery and petrochemical project”: All internet sites are prohibited from reproducing, commenting on, or discussing anything relating to the content of this report. Nor should it be discussed on blogs. Furthermore, blogs should set up keyword filtering to make sure the topic isn’t discussed. All websites are requested to strictly implement these rules.

The refinery would sit at the mouth of the River Pearl, an area which is ecologically sensitive wetland. The environmentalists and the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department have demanded that the EIA report be made public and a public discussion be held before the local government attempts to give a go ahead for the construction of the refinery. While demanding that internationally prescribed EIA practices be followed, a Hong Kong legislator said that,

The EIA report should be made public so that those in Hong Kong can also have access and respond to the issues raised. However there appears to be a shroud of mystery covering up the details. I understand that the contents of the EIA will not be made public and the consultation will also be limited in time.

This is not the first time that the Chinese government has attempted to block public involvement in a sensitive project. The Chinese government is often accused of giving priority to the national pride and economic profitability over environmental and social issues.

Water from neighboring provinces was diverted to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, thousands of farmers took to protests and about a third of a million people were relocated to make way for the construction of diversion channels. Problems with the Three Gorges Dam are well known and in 2002 the Chinese authorities refused to make public the EIA report of the Zipingpu dam in the Sichuan province which could have been the reason for the devastating earthquake last year which killed almost 70,000 people.

Since the crude oil prices have fallen below the $100 mark China has been aggressively stockpiling crude oil and has been building massive oil reserve plants across the country. China has now build four massive oil reserves on the mainland and could be looking to build floating storage facilities near the coast, this could be a serious threat to the nearby ecology. It is essential that environmental and social issues are given higher preference in this and all other large scale projects.

It is astonishing that China receives billions of dollars in foreign investments and still manages to work away with such lax EIA practices. China’s rudimentary approach towards addressing environmental issues relating to large scale projects is the very reason why the international investors need to make it mandatory for the projects managers to make the reports public and open for scrutiny.

Image: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

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