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Controversial refinery gets go-ahead

By Liu Sha (Global Times)

10:07, October 25, 2012

A local government in East China's Zhejiang Province said Wednesday it would continue with plans for a multibillion-yuan expansion of an oil refinery and chemical plant, after some 200 residents took to the streets Monday calling for the project to be cancelled.

The plant will refine 15 million tons of crude oil and produce paraxylene, a chemical that is used to make plastic bottles and polyester. paraxylene is a known carcinogen and handling the chemical requires protective gear including goggles and mask.

Officials in Zhenhai, where the plant is located, said the 55.8-billion-yuan ($8.7 billion) expansion of the State-owned subsidiary of China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) is a project in line with central government plans to revitalize the chemical industry.

A resident surnamed Zhu who joined the protest said demonstrators blocked an intersection in downtown Zhenhai.

"The expansion is mainly about increasing production capacity of paraxylene," Zhu told the Global Times.

Calls to Zhenhai Refining and Chemical Company and Sinopec went unanswered Wednesday.

The local government's website indicated that 3.6 billion yuan would be spent on environmental protection and also acknowledged that houses had been demolished and families relocated to make room for the project. It did not say if an environmental assessment would be made public or if one was completed.

Zhao Zhangyuan, professor at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, told the Global Times that high concentrations of paraxylene can cause respiratory problems and such a plant should be located far from where people live.

The expanded plant is 15.5 kilometers from downtown Zhenhai, a coastal city with a population of 230,000 under the jurisdiction of Ningbo.

Zhenhai resident Ding Yi said no public hearing was held before the expansion was given the go-ahead.

"Local officials have failed to do their part and the public won't trust them no matter how much they spend on environmental protection," Ding said, adding that unpleasant odors often waft over the communities near the plant.

An anonymous petition was circulated among local residents saying their gatherings would not stop until the project is cancelled.

Similar protests have occurred in Xiamen, Fujian Province, and Dalian, Liaoning Province, in 2007 and 2011 respectively. They forced local authorities to cancel plans to build chemical plants.

After the Xiamen incident, the State Environmental Protection Administration ordered that major projects undergo public hearings that provide feedback on public concerns, reported the Xinhua News Agency.
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