Objections filed against Ineos investment in port of Antwerp


Some 30 local and international organisations have submitted official objections to the port of Antwerp about the environmental implications of the petrochemical giant

‘A disastrous project’

A consortium of Flemish organisations has submitted an objection to the planned construction of a propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant and an ethane cracker unit in the port of Antwerp. The objection joins a second one penned by several international organisations.

In 2016, British petrochemical giant Ineos announced that it had chosen Antwerp as the site of its new facilities, good for a €3 billion investment in the port and 400 new jobs. Ineos would produce propylene and ethylene at the plant, which are raw materials for chemical products used by a number of industries, including car manufacturing, electronics and pharmaceuticals.

The size of Ineos’s installations would be deforesting an area of some 50 hectares, a measure not included in the environmental impact assessment, according to Antwerp Shale Gas Free, which works to end reliance on plastics and resources obtained through fracking.

CO2 emissions

“Our biggest objection is that the deforestation has been completely divorced from the planned construction,” said Pieter Lievens of the organisation. “As a result, the entire project’s impact on the climate has not been accurately estimated. This is illegal according to Belgian and European law.”

Other environmental organisations point to the amount of carbon dioxide such plants would emit and their reliance on natural gas obtained through fracking. Others emphasis that ethylene, which the plants will produce, is a building block of plastics.

“Ineos’s deforestation plans are just the first step in a disastrous project,” said Mathieu Soete of Greenpeace Belgium. “To tackle today’s climate emergency, Europe urgently needs to move towards full decarbonisation by 2040. Pumping billions into a plastics factory that will emit millions of tons of CO2 over the coming decades really is the last thing the climate needs.”

Cutting down forest for installations that are not guaranteed a permit is premature

- Olivier Beys of Bond Beter Leefmilieu

Other signatories to the objection are Bos+ and Vogelbescherming Vlaanderen as well as the two neighbourhood organisations that were instrumental in fully altering Antwerp’s Oosterweel project, Ademloos and stRaten-generaal.

The objection lodged by some 20 international organisations, meanwhile, was headed up by Food & Water Europe, which is concerned about Natura 2000, a European-wide network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species. “We see here a clear breach of the existing Natura 2000 legislation,” said Andy Gheorghiu of the Brussels-based lobby group. “The only way to solve the current massive plastic pollution problem is to rein in the sources of such pollution, and that means stopping these facilities, not expanding them.”

A third objection, meanwhile, was submitted by Bond Beter Leefmilieu, Natuurpunt and the Belgian chapter of the WWF. While they are not currently objecting to the deforestation – the Antwerp chapter of Natuurpunt is known to have been in talks to help manage compensation efforts – they are asking that a deforestation permit not be granted until an environmental permit is approved for the site.

“Cutting down forest for installations that are not guaranteed a permit is premature,” said Olivier Beys of Bond Beter Leefmilieu. “We would also ask for guarantees that new installations conform to requirements of a carbon-neutral and circular Belgium. These guarantees are indispensable.”

Ineos has applied to the province for an environmental permit, and anyone can submit comments or objections. It's the province that decides whether an environmental permit is granted.

According to port spokesperson Reinhard Byl, the objections are being passed along for consideration by city, provincial and regional authorities.

“Port of Antwerp is not directly involved in this first step in the Ineos permit process,” he said. “We will, of course provide the competent authorities with information where necessary. We await the province’s decision on this single permit application.”

Photo courtesy Natuurpunt Waasland