“No industrial safety, no petrochemical operations,” the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) reiterated along with a three-point statement, after industrial conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團, FPG) saw its fourth fire in three months at the Mailiao (麥寮) petrochemical complex in Yunlin County early on Saturday morning.
The group has found itself burned in a string of industrial safety mishaps, with one fire breaking out after another over the past 12 months, raising public concerns about industrial safety and crisis management at FPG.
According to the ministry’s statement released on Saturday, FPG should prioritize supply to domestic companies and cut or even suspend exports, if suspended operations at its plants fail to produce enough gasoline, diesel, propylene and other petrochemical materials.
The ministry expressed concern after production at three FPG oil refineries was halted as a result of power supply outages caused by the latest fire at its subsidiary Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s (台塑石化) propylene purification tower close to its No. 3 refinery.
The ministry also urged the group to renew “all” pipelines at the complex, with those likely to pose a danger and those located at important sites to be handled first.
FPG said last week that pipeline and equipment depreciation was “greater than expected” given the complex’s location on the coast.
The ministry said that in terms of employment, priority should be given to Taiwanese, especially those living in Yunlin, particularly when the group is seeking large numbers of technicians to maintain and service pipelines.
The third point the ministry raised was that production lines affected by the latest fire should not resume operation until they pass a thorough safety inspection.
Formosa Petrochemical has been ordered by the government to suspend production at its No. 3 refinery and resumption requires the approval of related authorities, while operations at the company’s No. 1 and No. 2 refineries can restart when the power supply is back to normal and there are no safety risks, the ministry said.
Formosa Petrochemical chairman Wilfred Wang (王文潮) and president Su Chi-yi (蘇啟邑) stepped down on Saturday following the latest fire — the second blaze in a week — which broke an earlier promise to “greatly enhance safety and prevent any reoccurrence.”
Earlier last week, FPG pledged to spend a total of NT$12 billion (US$416 million) before June 2014 to “renew, repaint, service and restructure” 1,063 pipelines that span about 1,266km at the Mailiao complex, which has a total of more than 3,000km of pipelines.
To that end, the group said it applied to the Council of Labor Affairs in June for 2,500 technicians to undertake pipeline maintenance and service work.
Some of those technicians will come from Singapore, where FPG said technicians are more -experienced at such engineering work than Taiwanese personnel.
Meanwhile, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said yesterday after a Cabinet meeting that state-run oil refiner CPC Corp, Taiwan (台灣中油), would help FPG improve safety at its Mailiao complex.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) asked Wu to help come up with a solution to FPG’s repeated failure to address the concerns of Mailiao residents over the fires.
“We have invited CPC executives to take part in the meeting to discuss how FPG can best solve its problems,” Wu said.