Economic Daily News: Crisis in petrochemical industry
Central News Agency
2014-08-04 11:24 AM
The gas explosions that caused over 300 casualties in Kaohsiung last week have exposed various problems related to the development of Taiwan's petrochemical industry. Unless we face up to the problems and examine them comprehensively, it would be hard to avoid similar tragedies. Kaohsiung has been Taiwan's petrochemical capital since the late 1960s. The industry has created over 300,000 jobs there and helped the city expand into a metropolis of 3 million people. Over the years, highly flammable petrochemical materials have been delivered between the manufacturers and their suppliers via dozens of kilometers of underground pipelines throughout the city. Many of the gas pipes are in locations that have now become busy residential and commercial districts. These pipelines are like invisible bombs planted underneath the city. An investigation indicates that the leaking pipeline that caused the recent explosions runs through an area with a population of 720,000 and that one of the pipelines in the disaster area still contains a formidable 260 tons of propylene. In a city with that many invisible bombs, a natural catastrophe such as a strong earthquake can lead to disaster 10 times and even 100 times worse than the recent explosions. Preparation for and prevention of such a disaster would require close cooperation between the central and local governments, which is now obviously absent in the aftermath of the explosions. A more crucial issue is relocating the highly dangerous pipelines from populous areas. If this is not done, even the best disaster prevention plan would not be able to avert the destructive consequences of a major natural catastrophe. Yet another challenge is the future of the petrochemical industry. The explosions have spurred mounting calls among local residents for the state-run oil company CPC Corp. to remove its refinery and naphtha cracking plants from Kaohsiung. The relocation of the CPC plants would inevitably force other midstream and downstream makers out of Kaohsiung as well, which would threaten the jobs of tens of thousands of people. This is a pressing issue that urgently needs to be resolved in line with Taiwan's overall economic development strategy. (Editorial abstract -- Aug. 4, 2014) (By Y.F. Low)
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