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  • Fire at CEPSA refinery

    On Friday evening the ESG received numerous calls from concerned individuals as well as Plataforma colleagues from Spain due to explosions and emergency flaring at the CEPSA Oil Refinery.

    It is thought that problems with power supply could have been the cause of the accident although this is currently under investigation. Flaring continued for 1 and a half hours during which time residents spilled out into the streets, alarm systems rang and a helicopter monitored the scene from the air. While the fire was thankfully contained the immediate impacts of such an accident on people and the environment cannot be underestimated. People are right to be scared about such incidences at petrochemical plants which, if not contained, could develop into a major threat to the health and safety of both workers and residents of the area.

    Public and political pressure continues to build. This latest incident has occurred in a period which has seen:

    · a recent accident at a sister plant INTERQUISA resulting in hospitalisation of workers;

    · strikes planned at CEPSA by its workforce concerned about low manning levels;

    · a damming technical report by Denny Larson published on the levels of pollution from the refinery (commissioned by Neil Parish);

    · same MEP reiterate his commitment to improving standards at the plant and submitted a cross border petition to the Environment Commissioner demanding for rigorous health studies to be done to assess impacts from industrial pollution as well as an inspection by the European Commission

    · an ongoing audit by an independent team of technicians overseeing CEPSA emissions due to inordinate number of upsets

    · the enforcement of a major environmental directive IPPC 96/61 seeking to bring polluting industries in line with their modern equivalents

    That Friday’s incident was controlled shows that the Plants internal contingency plan appears to be effective. The ESG has also learnt that a member of the Plataforma and resident of Puente Mayorga was contacted by CEPSA after the incident to offer reassurance over the problem. This contact is a first and must be welcomed.

    However, the accident highlights the risk potential of a serious accident happening in a densely populated residential area. Furthermore emergency flaring causes numerous toxins to be released into surrounding neighbourhoods which could adversely affect people’s health. It is also clear that a formal cross border contingency plan is required to provide information to Gibraltar residents.

    After this unfortunate incident statements have been issued by both CEPSA and La Junta claiming that at no time was the environment affected and that minimal physical damage was caused as a result of the accident. This cannot be taken at face value. One only has to spend a few minutes looking at the Junta’s own monitoring website to see how “normal” air quality levels in the area are invariably acceptable at best though more often signal a poor or very poor level of air quality.

    It’s clear that what Friday’s incident highlights is the need for action by authorities on both sides of the border and for the start of independent, rigorous cross border epidemiological studies.