Durban residents want answers after refinery emission

The South Durban Environmental Alliance has expressed shock and frustration after hearing that the Engen refinery in Wentworth, Durban had been allegedly reopened. 

People living near the refinery were subjected to two hours of dirty smoke from the refinery, the alliance said on Saturday. 

Desmond D’sa, the chairperson of the alliance, said “That refinery is rotten and needs attention. And we understand it to be closed.”

But Engen’s spokesperson, Gavin Smith, said the emission was a five-minute “flare” in which excess gases are extracted. “The refinery remains closed, except for certain sections while investigations are ongoing … investigations of this magnitude and complexity requires commitment to due process. Engen appointed an independent, experienced and qualified team of investigators, inline with requirements of the eThekwini municipality notice,” he said.

D’Sa said the alliance was also disturbed that Engen had not taken responsibility for the explosion on 4 December or assisted the affected families. “We are still waiting for Engen’s report on the events of last year. We need to see what it entails.”


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Smith said: “Engen is working expediently with internal specialists and external advisers to identify what happened, and to ensure additional processes are put in place to mitigate against any potential future re-occurrence.

Engen is firmly committed to conducting and completing a thorough investigation of the incident on 4 December 2020, in line with section 30 of the National Environmental Management Act 107 1998. Once this is completed, we will provide all relevant stakeholders with validated, verified outcomes of the evaluation.” 

D’Sa said: “We informed the department of environment, forestry and fisheries in [KwaZulu-Natal] and haven’t received anything from them. It is quite disturbing that they are also relying on a report that will come from Engen instead of doing their investigation.”

The alliance claimed that the explosion affected more than 100 people and left some homeless. 

The parliamentary portfolio on environment, forestry and fisheries visited the site of the blast earlier this month. Fikile Xasa, the committee chairperson, recommended that Engen meet the residents in the light of environmental concerns. 

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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