The Gibraltar Government will flag up Sunday’s incident at the CEPSA refinery with the EU Commission as a matter of urgency.
This comes after plumes of heavy black smoke spewed into the air over the Bay of Gibraltar following an ‘electrical fault’ at the plant, sparking concern amongst citizens on both sides of the border.
The Government confirmed that it is looking in to the events surrounding the incident adding that scientists from the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Climate Change along with its expert air quality consultants are currently investigating the impacts of the incident on Gibraltar.
The Government added that it was aware of the concerns in the community with regards to the potential health impacts of such practices and sort to reassures the public that it is taking decisive action to follow this up at the highest levels.
“The Environmental Agency has checked Gibraltar’s monitoring station data and no abnormal peaks have been recorded,” it said adding that the wind direction was in Gibraltar’s favour on this occasion.
Although a spokesperson for CEPSA claimed the incident had no impact on the environment, this was disputed by environmentalists in the Campo region who called for tougher environmental safety measures to be put in place to prevent further serious incidents.
The company further explained that due to an electrical failure, there was an unexpected stop which caused a punctual discharge of gases, causing the high flares.
“These punctual gas emissions are a consequence of the good work in the plant security systems, are suitable with our strict security and environmental controls and they are not a risk for people nor employees,” the oil company explained.
No workers or members of the public sustained injuries, the company said adding that within minutes of the incident occurring it had alerted the authorities in San Roque, the Environment Delegation in Cadiz and the CEPSA Neighbours Committee.
In a statement the Environmental Safety Group said it received several messages and calls from concerned citizens from both sides of the border due to the ‘alarming levels of flaring’ by the CEPSA Oil Refinery.
Flaring, the ESG said, is carried out as an emergency measure when there is a break in power supply. This has been confirmed by CEPSA in the Spanish press.
“However flaring releases large volumes of toxic gases into the environment and must therefore be managed to last the shortest possible time,” the Group said adding that on Sunday it took close to 40 minutes before it finally petered out.
“A technical audit carried out on this industry some years ago found that a number of measures were needed to contain and reduce levels of pollution.”
“A key measure was the installation of onsite back-up power supply to keep emergency flaring to the shortest possible time given the impact this has on people and the environment throughout the Bay.”
The ESG added that it would be taking the issue up with the relevant EU directorate and ask that they look into the matter with some urgency.
Earlier in the day Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon had called on the Government to launch an official complaint to the EU Commission for the Environment and to conduct an independent study on the effects of the refinery on Gibraltar and surrounding area.
She described the incident as “deeply worrisome” and said: “In this day and age, it is outrageous to accept that such an environmental liability can remain unchecked, and we must stand up and demand answers about how exactly the refinery is affecting our community.”
“These are the types of issues that our Government should be placing at the top of its agenda and not give up on until we are given answers and viable solutions, given that every single Gibraltarian is a potential target.”