May 23, 2022 [Argus] – The future of South Africa’s 180,000 b/d Sapref refinery in Durban remains in the balance after the plant suffered extensive damage in the heavy rain and floods that hit the KwaZulu-Natal province last month.
Sapref, a joint venture between Shell and BP, was in the final stages of shutting the refinery indefinitely when the flooding took place. Shell and BP said in February that they planned to halt operations at the end of March to allow them to consider various options for the refinery, “a sale being the most preferred.”
Plant equipment and infrastructure — including IT, electricity and water systems, as well as roads — were damaged, with water levels reaching 2-3m across the site. Sapref has not released any estimates of the extent of the damage or how much it will cost to repair the refinery, nor has it indicated if it will undertake the repairs itself or leave the work to a prospective buyer.
At the time of the flooding on the night of 12 April, the hydrocarbon inventory in the refinery’s units was at a minimum, Sapref said. The units that were still online tripped, and that resulted in some flaring of light hydrocarbons that continued into the next day. A drone surveillance assessment showed no major leaks from storage tanks. A few tanks were left visibly tilting but these were near empty.
Some hydrocarbons in Sapref’s open oil recovery systems and waste dams, as well as drums and vehicles, were washed from the site into surrounding areas and onto the adjacent beach. The coast south of the refinery up to Tiger Rocks beach suffered a significant impact, Sapref said.
An assessment of the environmental impact was conducted and this was followed by a clean-up of the affected beach as well as the canal. The Isipingo estuary and canal were sectioned off to prevent further contamination.
To date, 90pc of the contaminated debris has been removed from the beach, estuary and mangroves, according to Sapref. All relevant environmental authorities have been notified and Sapref is working under their direction as the clean-up progresses to completion, it said.
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