The explosions at Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s Sixth Naphtha Cracker Plant in Mailiao Township (麥寮), Yunlin County, last month, seem to have developed from an issue of industrial safety into a political power struggle. One cannot help but wonder if this will speed up a resolution of the problem.
It is important that we review the problems the plant has experienced and demand that Formosa Petrochemical make good on its social obligation to clean up the pollution caused by the explosions as well as offering compensation to those affected.
Formosa Plastics Group has made a significant contribution to Taiwan’s economic development, but it has also been provided with considerable resources and opportunities by the government, growing from a rice trader into a huge and powerful conglomerate.
Formosa Petrochemical Corp chairman Wilfred Wang (王文潮) emphasized the group’s contribution to the economy and employment, but companies are also expected to abide by environmental protection and labor laws. Today, many firms even take on a philanthropic role by making community donations and seeking to improve the quality of the local environment.
The manufacturing process in the petrochemical industry is highly dangerous and the pollution caused by the recent explosions was examined by a number of chemical and medical experts, so the public is aware of the seriousness of the matter. Thanks to news reports on both television and the Internet, the public identifies with the furious residents of Mailiao. Such contamination has a long-term impact not only on the livelihood of local farmers and fishermen, but also on groundwater and ecology.
Because of the highly contaminative nature of the industry, Formosa Petrochemical should hold itself to higher environmental and industrial safety standards to remain beyond reproach. It should also work to improve relations with local communities and carry out relief and environmental protection work.
In Taiwan, economic development has always trumped social development, and Taiwanese have paid the price in terms of environmental degradation.
The government should remain objective and handle the recent spate of industrial accidents at Formosa Petrochemical in accordance with the law.
The Yunlin County Government should also provide assistance with any follow up work.
It is to be hoped that Formosa Petrochemical will keep its promise to obey the law, assist the local community, prevent pollution, reduce gas emissions, promote risk management, improve operations and carry out sustainable management.
More important is the question: Should Taiwan continue to develop its petrochemical industry? More than 1,000 local and international experts have expressed their opposition to the eighth naphtha cracker plant proposed by Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Company in Changhua County. Hopefully the government will review their arguments and there will be public dialogue to determine what is best for Taiwan’s long-term development.
Han Tzu-Shian is a professor in the Department of Business Administration at National Chengchi University.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG