Fire suspends operation of petrochem plant

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The operation of the Gokongwei-led JG Summit Petrochemical Corp. (JGSPC) in Batangas City was temporarily put on hold after its naphtha cracker plant in the city broke down, causing a big fire that alarmed the church and the local community.

The company was on the third phase of its plant commissioning in mid-June when during the flaring, the system malfunctioned, sending out a large cloud of dark smoke and fire that lasted for about three to four days.

The smoke was visible from as far as the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road, or at least 22 kilometers from the coastal village of Simlong in Batangas City.

The company, which produces polyethylene and polypropylene resins, shut down its plant on June 16, the same day the city government of Batangas issued an indefinite cease-and-desist order, but the fire and the smoke continued for another day or two, according to Noel Mendoza.

Mendoza is the program coordinator of the nongovernment Batangas Coastal Resources Management Foundation (BCRMF), which was “invited” by the company to monitor its plant commissioning.

“Flaring is normally done by any company [as] a mitigating measure to burn hydrocarbon and excess impurities [from fuel]. If it was done smoothly, what we should have seen was a blue flame or a very minimal red flame and it wouldn’t be very noticeable,” he said in a phone interview on Sunday.

The flaring incident alarmed the communities in Batangas City, prompting a multipartite team composed of environmental and health officers and  BCRMF to conduct a “survey” and assess its “immediate impact” on human health and the environment.

The results of the survey, expected to be completed next week, would be the basis for whatever compensation the government would ask of the company before it is allowed to resume its operations, said Fr. Dakila Ramos, head of the Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment of the Archdiocese of Lipa.

“Even before that (flaring), a lot of people were coming to us complaining about the noise [from the plant]. They (JGSPC) also failed to conduct a massive information campaign before the flaring,” Ramos said in a separate phone interview.

The company is currently embroiled with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources  in Batangas for the 271 fire trees that it illegally cut in May for the company’s expansion project.

The Inquirer tried to seek comments from the firm but efforts turned futile.

Last year, JG Summit Holdings Inc. announced that the $800-million naphtha cracker plant of JGSPC would generate $800 million to $1 billion in turnover for the business conglomerate.

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