Media Release: VAAL communities challenge SASOL’S greenhouse gas and toxic emissions – LRC Appeal of Gert Sibande AEL Renewal
Published by Legal Resources Centre 13 June 2019
For Immediate Release: 13 June 2019
Cape Town – In a potential setback to SASOL, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), filed an appeal (12th June 2019) challenging a recent renewal of the Atmospheric Emissions License (AEL) granted to its Synfuels plant in Secunda, South Africa by the Gert Sibande Municipality. The renewal permits Sasol to continue its coal liquification activity at the Secunda plant, a process accepted internationally as highly polluting and inefficient. The LRC, acting on behalf the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, an NGO focused on promoting environmental awareness in communities around the plant, calls for the license to be set aside and reconsidered in light of new information related to the environmental safety and viability of Sasol’s coal liquification process.
The appeal contends that the municipality as licensing authority failed to consider critical factors when granting Sasol the renewed AEL, in particular Sasol’s ability to replace its coal feedstock at the Synfuels plant with natural gas, which, it contends is a factor that had to be considered for compliance with national environmental legislation and just administrative action.
Sasol Synfuel is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in South Africa and has often been cited as the largest single emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world. The plant’s operations convert coal to liquid fuel, and also use coal to generate steam, powering the process. This process emits copious quantities of poisonous hydrogen sulphide gas into a declared air pollution priority area. Secunda itself is not compliant with national ambient air quality standards and Synfuels is a significant contributor to the poor air quality in the area. Coal liquification processes are recognized as being extremely inefficient and are in fact banned in many countries, including the United States. According to American Association for Advancement of Science, coal-to-fuel processes produce twice the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as oil to petrol does.
In 2004, Sasol gained direct access to a natural gas pipeline enabling it to import natural gas from Mozambique to Secunda. According to the appeal, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the pipeline can support enough natural gas for Sasol to replace nearly all of its coal feedstock, and thus cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 12.7 million metric tons per year and avoid approximately $5 billion per year in social damages caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The conversion will eliminate hydrogen sulphide emissions and many other health damaging air pollutants.
In granting Sasol the renewed AEL, the licensing authority was required to consider the effect that greenhouse gas emissions have on the environment and health conditions. As a guiding principle, the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act, requires regulators to consider for the Best Practical Environmental Option, which represents the option that provides the most benefit with the least amount of harm at a cost acceptable to society. The appeal maintains that the licensing authority did not consider the Best Practical Environmental Option, and a host of other relevant considerations rendering the decision unlawful.
If successful, the appeal could open the way to a proper ventilation of the issue of SASOL’s contribution to climate change and poisonous and health damaging air pollution in South Africa.