The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) formed an ad hoc task force yesterday to supervise industrial safety management at Formosa Plastics Group’s (FPG, 台塑集團) Mailiao (麥寮) petrochemical complex in Yunlin County.
The task force, which will be headed by Woody Duh (杜紫軍), director-general of the ministry’s Industrial Development Bureau, consists of petrochemical experts and government officials, according to a ministry statement.
State-run oil refiner CPC Corp, Taiwan (台灣中油), a rival to FPG’s refinery unit, Formosa Petrochemical Corp (台塑石化), will also have representation on the panel to offer advice, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Hwang Jung-chiou (黃重球) told reporters.
He said FPG’s production processes would be examined, but that would not involve trade secrets, so it would not be a problem to tap CPC’s expertise.
The formation of the task force came after the Cabinet sent a formal notice to FPG on Monday, demanding that the group submit a checklist and a time-line for suspending operations at the plant.
A checklist on which sites would have their operations suspended must be submitted to the ministry within a week, followed by the submission within a month of a time-line on how the group plans to temporarily halt operations at its different sites over the next year to enhance overall safety at the complex.
FPG, which has suffered seven major industrial safety incidents in the past 12 months, experienced its fourth fire in three months early on Saturday morning. The group yesterday said it wouldn’t be able to hire enough experienced employees to conduct safety inspections within one year.
“The biggest problem is that the manpower required for the inspections is beyond imagination,” said Hong Fu-yuan (洪福源), president of FPG subsidiary Formosa Chemicals and Fibre Corp (台灣化纖).
Hong cited Formosa Petrochemical as an example. The affiliate, which is responsible for four of the seven incidents, would need to hire 20,000 workers per month to complete the inspections within a year, he said.
“That is impossible for any company in Taiwan,” Hong said.
He said FPG would hold discussions with independent third parties to try to find a feasible solution that would put some high-risk facilities at the top of the list.
The group is also likely to spend more than its earlier estimate of NT$12 billion (US$415 million) to improve its pipelines at the Mailiao complex, he said.
Meanwhile, Formosa Petrochemical said yesterday that Saturday’s fire would cost the company NT$83 million a day. The company’s property losses are about NT$187 million based on a preliminary estimate, according to a stock exchange filing.
However, the firm declined to comment on market speculation that it is asking other Asian refiners to take delivery of crude supplies it can’t process after the shutdown of its 540,000-barrel-a-day refinery because of the fire.
Shares of Formosa Petrochemical dropped 0.11 percent to NT$93.9 yesterday. The stock has fallen nearly 13 percent since Saturday's fire, Taiwan Stock Exchange data showed.
Shares of Formosa Chemicals and Fibre fell 1.99 percent to NT$88.6, while those of Formosa Plastics Corp (台塑) were up 0.11 percent at NT$94.1. Nan Ya Plastics Corp (南亞塑膠) shares rose 0.71 percent to NT$70.5.