Sichuan chemical plant project suspended after Yaan earthquake

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 2:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has said it has halted a controversial chemical plant project amid concerns over its proximity to an earthquake fault line.

"The government insists that it will not allow production at the petrochemical project in Pengzhou to begin prior to a legally required examination," the Chengdu Daily quoted a statement from a city council meeting on Monday.

The statement came nine days after a 7-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan and killed at least 196 people. The temblor has reignited concerns over potential health hazards caused by the petrochemical factory in the northwestern suburbs of the 14-million-strong capital.

"We have undertaken a careful investigation into factors affecting social stability," the report said, referring to calls for protests against the plant.

A woman surnamed Fan, 33, was arrested on Friday, after she called for a protest on May 4 against the plant. In a post on Thursday on her microblog that has since been deleted, she also said the protest had been approved by authorities.

Chengdu Television showed Fan apologising for posting the siren call during a news broadcast on Friday, but that did not help abate online expressions of anger at the plant project and her arrest.

Searches for "Pengzhou petrochemical plant" have been blocked on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging platform, on Tuesday.

"A factory that pollutes the environment shouldn't be allowed [to operate]," said a Pengzhou resident surnamed Li, who refused to give his full name for fear of repercussions. "I would not oppose a factory that doesn't pollute next to my home."

"The discharge of poisonous gases would have a serious health impact, and could even lead to cancer," another Chengdu resident said on condition of anonymity. "Because of the Sichuan Basin's geography, air pollutants cannot thin out."

If a protest emerges on Saturday, it would not be the first against the ethylene plant. In 2008, a week before the magnitude 8 earthquake struck another part of Sichuan, some 200 to 300 people marched through the city calling for a suspension of its construction.

After the 2008 earthquake, urban authorities promised to re-examine the plant's environmental impact and its ability to withstand earthquakes, but eventually resumed planning and started construction in 2011.

The ethylene plant, built by China's largest oil and gas producer PetroChina, with an initial investment of 38.1 billion yuan (HK$48 billion), was Sichuan province's largest investment project when it was announced.

Corruption allegations last year have not helped dissipate locals' concerns over the project. An investor, Dai Xiaoming, chairman of the Chengdu Industry Investment Group, was arrested in August on corruption charges. That was followed by the arrest of deputy provincial party secretary Li Chuncheng in December.