Protest held over plan to build oil refineries

Residents from Changhua County voiced their objection to Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Corp’s plan to build oil refineries on the coast of the county’s Dacheng Township (大城) in a demonstration in front of the Presidential Office yesterday.

About 100 Changhua County residents protested the project, holding up banners with slogans opposing the oil refineries and vowed to stand up against the refineries, even at the cost of life.

“I think most of you know what has happened at the Formosa Plastics Group’s oil refineries recently and we don’t want that to happen to us, to our children and grandchildren in the future,” president of the Fangyuan Township (芳苑) Association against Pollution Lin Chi-min (林濟民) said at the demonstration. “We don’t want to live in fear and we don’t want our children to have to wear masks everyday when they go to school.”

Lin was referring to two accidents in July when fire broke out at Formosa Plastics Group’s oil refineries in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township (麥寮) which caused a massive cloud of toxic dust to engulf nearby townships.

Besides the two fires, frequent minor leaks of toxic gases from the oil refineries have troubled area residents since operations began in 1998, forcing students in nearby schools to wear surgical masks when going to school.

The Mailiao oil refineries are located on the south side of the mouth of the Jhuoshuei River(濁水溪), while the planned Kuokuang oil refineries are to be constructed on the north of the river mouth.

“Taiwan is a small country, how many highly polluting oil refineries can we take?” Lin asked. “Tens of thousands of residents and farmers in nearby areas have petitioned for a halt to the project, yet the government has not responded positively.”

“What kind of government is it that would use its power to help a private firm build oil refineries, which is only in the interests of the firm, and put the health of hundreds of thousands of local -residents at stake?” Lin said.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇), who took part in the demonstration to show her support, urged President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to not only talk about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but to turn his words into action.

“As of last year, around one third of our petrochemical production was exported, which means that we already have sufficient petrochemical production to supply domestic industries and no need for more new plants,” she said. “We’re not opposed to the petrochemical industry, but we’re opposed to unrestrained expansion of the industry.”

A Presidential Office official received representatives from the demonstrators and took the petition. The official, however, did not make any concrete response to the protesters’ demands.

Separately, another group of demonstrators yesterday also staged a protest in front of the Presidential Office. The group protested against the -construction of Provincial Highway No. 26 connecting Taitung County and Pingtung County, saying the road passes through the only habitat of the endangered green turtle on Taiwan proper, as well as many other geologically sensitive areas.

“After local residents expressed concerns that the highway may damage the coastal ecology, the government presented a revised project with a tunnel to avoid -going along the coast, however, only 3km of the 12.5km highway would be through a tunnel,” said Chu Yu-hsi (朱玉璽), executive director of the Ecological Education Center.

The group said that the entrance to the planned tunnel would be directly in the green turtle’s habitat and would endanger their survival, and that the construction itself would cause significant damage to the coastal ecology.

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