Sunday, August 29, 2010

Future home of Kuokuang Petrochemical!

Yesterday was meant to be a short ride, but there was a change of plans, so I decided to bike down to the Dacheng wetlands in Changhua with Drew to see the spot where the massive Kuokuang petrochemical plant complex is slated to go in, and take a few pictures. I originally planned on a 140 km ride but we got a little lost there in the wilds of southwestern Changhua, where the roads are marked on a strict need-to-know basis. Hence, I ended up with an impromptu 163 km ride, my second century (100 miles) of the month. In the pic above Drew photos the vast expanse of wetlands.

The Kuokuang project....
The project was initiated by the state-run refinery CPC Corp., Taiwan to relocate its crude refining plants in southern Taiwan's Kaohsiung City to Changhua County by 2015, where it plans to invest NT$400 billion (US$12.57 billion) to construct the petrochemical complex

[from here] Planned for construction on reclaimed land off the mouth of the Zhoushui River in western Taiwan’s Changhua County, the 2,773-hectare complex is set to be the second biggest on the island after Formosa Petrochemical Corp.’s Mailiao refinery complex in nearby Yunlin County.

Egrets.... you can be 100 meters away and if they spot you moving, they immediately fly away. But they will follow a tractor in a field a meter away like puppies.

I posted on "1,000 academics" who oppose this project here. Among them is the influential Noel Laureate Lee Yuan-tse...
Nobel prize winner Lee Yuan-tseh voiced his opposition Tuesday to a project to build a giant petrochemical complex on a central Taiwan coastal wetland, describing the project as "Taiwan's misfortune."

"We pray for favorable wind and rain, for the country to prosper and the people to live in safety, " said Lee, a former president of Academia Sinica, the nation's highest research institute.

However, "the wish seems getting more and more far away from us," Lee lamented at a news conference in which he and many other scholars called for a halt on the Kuokuang petrochemical project out of concern over ecology and human health.
Lee pointed out that with the massive emissions of the Kuokuang complex the government will never make its emissions milestones.

An abandoned military structure. Behind the wetlands stretch down the coast to the distant Mailiao industrial complex.

The Taipei Times reported the other day on activist opposition to the upcoming project:
The pamphlet was written by Hsu, Lin Pi-yao (林碧堯) of Tunghai University, Chou Chin-cheng (周晉澄) and Wu Ching-chi (吳清吉) of NTU, as well as other TEPU members.

TEPU said the petrochemical company’s claim that it would create 692,000 jobs once operations began was proof it was exaggerating its statistics.

According to the 2009 Human Resources Report by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS), the chemical and petrochemical industries accounted for a total of 268,000 jobs.

“Does the work force also include the ladies that sell betel nuts outside the factory?” Hsu asked.

Hsu said Kuokuang’s report showed that its scale of operations would be comparable to Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s naphtha cracker in Mailiao (麥寮). Formosa Petrochemical has said its naphtha cracker emits 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, but Kuokuang said its annual emissions would only be 12 million tonnes.

Hsu said Taiwan imports almost all of its energy sources, with the petrochemical industry consuming about one-third of this but contributing only about 4 percent of GDP.

“We’re not asking that the petrochemical industry be reduced to nothing,” Hsu said. “But the petrochemical sector already takes up a large share of the nation’s industry and should not be expanded anymore.”

Lin also said Kuokuang would not be using new production processes and could cause severe pollution.

He said the government was only thinking in terms of profit from the sale of petrochemical products to China under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), a strategy that would cause serious suffering to Taiwanese.
In some ways this highlights the problems of environmental activists in Taiwan -- the company's claim that it will create jobs does indeed include the betel nut girls outside the factory, which would not exist otherwise. As written, the company is not claiming it will employ so many people, only that its economic activities will have multiplier effects, a notion well supported in the economics literature.

That said, there's no way it will create so many jobs. The MOEA says that:
MOEA estimates have the project attracting NT$933.6 billion (US$29 billion) in future investments, while generating NT$460 billion in annual output and creating 375,000 job opportunities.
Note that everything will be subsidized -- water, electricity, oil imports.

The wetlands there are full of structures. Drew remarked that you could see why in the old days ships did not like to approach Taiwan from this side. You could ground your craft in the mud kilometers from the shore.

Speaking of water, I posted last month on a Commonwealth magazine article on the planned destruction of central Taiwan's last wetland for a totally unnecessary naptha cracker for making plastic:
It's not only that Taiwan's largest wetland is bound to vanish if the naphtha cracker project is realized. Lee Hong-yuan, professor at the Department of Civil Engineering at National Taiwan University and a harsh critic of the project, foresees a host of difficulties: Where is the huge amount of water that Kuo Kuang will need supposed to come from, given that the complex will be located in a land subsidence area that lacks water? And how is flooding to be prevented when the land subsides even further? How can the increasing salinization of the soil be addressed? And what is to be done about worsening erosion caused by sea water? These four questions expose the government's absurd policies on industrial development, water resource management and land use, as well as its coastal protection and agriculture policies, which seem to be suffering from scarcity themselves.


Second only to Pingdong County, Jhanghua County has the most severe land subsidence problem in all of Taiwan. In the most affected areas around Fangyuan and Dacheng, land sinking, resulting from excessive groundwater exploitation, can be as deep as an entire story. And land subsidence continues to spread inland. Due to the sinking of the coastal area over a long period, seawater has seeped in, so that the extracted groundwater is salty and the soil has starting to become salinated. Now not even peanuts grow there anymore. In Dacheng, whose economy used to rely heavily on agriculture, the acreage of abandoned farmland keeps growing and expanding further inland. The height of the town's jetties has to be constantly raised to make up for coastal subsidence.
Another structure, concrete piles.

Wonder how this happened.

In a commentary in Taipei Times, Civil Society and the Fight Against the Big Polluters, Lee Ken-cheng observed:
The new Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology plant will be located on the north bank of the Jhuoshui River (濁水溪) opposite the sixth naphtha cracker plant. When development is completed, the combined pollution from these two plants will be even worse than current levels. The Ministry of Economic Affairs’ strategic environmental assessment report on the petrochemical industry should, of course, include information on all external costs caused by the petrochemical industry before being submitted to the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee for discussion. Before the environmental assessment is passed, the review of the plant should be suspended.
The sixth naptha cracker is shown below. It is actually in the next county down, Yunlin, and has been in the news after a spate of recent fires.

The Mailiao petrochemical and steel complex.

Another view back to the south.

The Taipei Times reported on the administrative roadblocks to an environmentalist plan to purchase land to stop the construction:
After 50,000 people signed up to purchase 200 hectares of coastal wetlands in Changhua County in an attempt to block the construction of a petrochemical plant in the area, environmentalists yesterday announced the beginning of the second phase of the project — to purchase another 800 hectares. The group also urged the government not to scupper the campaign through administrative measures.

“More than 50,000 people — from across the country, including the offshore islands — have agreed to purchase a total of 200 hectares of wetlands along the Changhua coast. Now it’s time for us to start the second phase of the project,” Taiwan Environmental Protection Union Changhua Division chairman Tsai Chia-yang (蔡嘉陽) said. “This time, we will look to purchase another 800 hectares of wetlands in the area.”

Tsai said that the original 200 hectares are in a coastal strip along which the critically endangered pink dolphin lives. The 800 hectares to be purchased in the second phase of the campaign are an essential habitat for some bird species, he said.

Although coastal wetlands in Changhua County’s Dacheng Township (大城), to the north of the mouth of Jhuoshuei River (濁水溪), are an important habitat for many endangered fish and bird species, Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co plans to build oil refineries in the area.

Worried about the ecological damage and pollution that such a plan would bring, environmentalists and locals have launched the ambitious project to raise money for an environmental trust fund to purchase the land that Kuokuang wants to use to build refineries.

Each share — 1m² of land — will cost only NT$119.

Though more than 50,000 people have expressed interest, the Ministry of the Interior has yet to approve the application for the creation of the environmental trust fund.

Deputy Minister of the Interior Lin Tsyr-ling (林慈玲) said environmental groups had not yet registered to enable themselves to create a trust fund and that the groups had not received consent from the National Property Administration to buy the land.

Tsai said the groups were still in the process of registering to create a trust fund, but added that he did not agree that the consent of the National Property Administration is needed before the ministry could review their case.

“The ministry says it’s the agency in charge of approving trust funds, but then it says it won’t do anything with our application before receiving consent from the National Property Administration. That’s giving the power to decide to the National Property Administration,” Tsai said.
Several of us watching this had wondered whether the government will simply use its power of forced purchase to seize any land purchased to stop the project. The site, and the one in Mailiao, sit next to waters frequented by Taiwan's endangered pink dolphin. For more on that issue, see this long post on environmental assessments and the dolphins from a couple of years ago.

Wetlands stretch to the north as well.

Drew and I got up on the seawall, where the cool wet breeze off the ocean completely negated the desiccating heat of the noonday sun.

A milestone was reached this year when a major investor in the Kuokuang project pulled out due to the delays in getting it constructed.
Business tycoon Preston Chen (陳武雄), chairman of the Taipei-based Chinese National Federation of Industries, said yesterday he would quit investing in the Kuokuang petrochemical project because of continued delays.

“I’m not investing. No investment project in the world can defer for so long,” Chen said in disappointment.

The Kuokuang petrochemical project was worth investing in four years ago, but it’s now a big question mark, he said.

“The world is changing fast in terms of business competitiveness. Kuokuang Petrochemical has my sympathy for all it has endured over the past years for the development project,” he added.

He repeated a statement by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) earlier yesterday, saying the government attaches equal importance to economic development and environmental protection, but if the two issues conflict and one must be favored, environmental protection would win out.

He lamented that major investment projects in the country don’t receive enough support, pointing out that a similar project was proposed in Singapore half a year after the Kuokuang project and the Singaporean petrochemical complex has already started commercial production.
Kuokuang had also been identified in reports last year as a possible site for Chinese investment. The project is justified by claims that Taiwan needs it to stay in the plastics race with Singapore.

A wetlands wharf.

Drew headed out onto the concrete "wharf" into the wetlands.

Mud and temples.

Looking back up the seawall. Note yet another sunken blockhouse.

Drew returns with power. Drew is an amazing rider who has been an inspiration to me, constantly pushing me to exceed what I thought were my limits. I am humbled and fortunate to have him as a friend and mentor. His account with more pictures is here.

A beautiful young couple enjoying the lovely day nearby. What kind of Taiwan will the future bring to them?

ADDED: Researchers question economics of Kuokuang complex.
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Anonymous said...

Turton I'm starting to get a little uncomfortable with the way you gush over Drew on your blog. I mean, it's like once every three posts now. Plus you guys hang around in really tight shorts together. Is there something going on we should know about? I've already got a call into my paparazzi friends at Next magazine...

Michael Turton said...

LOL. I'm at that sensitive age, you know, the middle years.

Anonymous said...

If you've seen Drew in tight shorts you'd understand. It is better than a Tom Jones show.

Domenic said...

Michael BBC ran this two days ago...

"No final approval for the project,"

If things go the way of your most recent post, they'll approve it.