Yaan earthquake

Chengdu ethylene plant halts construction over quake safety fears

The controversial ethylene factory comes under scrutiny over safety concerns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 2:41am

Chengdu , the capital of Sichuan province, 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 magnitude 7 earthquake struck Sichuan and killed at least 196 people. The quake reignited concerns over potential health hazards caused by the petrochemical factory in the northwestern suburbs of the city of 14 million.

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

A 33-yer-old woman 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 her apologising for posting the siren call during a news broadcast on Friday, but it failed to ease online anger at the plant project and her arrest. Searches for "Pengzhou petrochemical plant" were yesterday blocked on Sina Weibo, the mainland's most popular microblogging platform.

"A factory that pollutes the environment shouldn't be allowed [to operate]," said a Pengzhou resident. "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 occurs 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, more than 200 people marched in 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 plant, launched by oil and gas giant PetroChina with an initial investment of 38.1 billion yuan (HK$48 billion), was Sichuan's largest investment project when it was announced.

Corruption allegations last year have only increased concerns about the project.