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EPCA 2023: Ineos seeks new permit for stalled Antwerp cracker project

  • Author
  • Ian Young from Chemical Week
  • Editor
  • Adithya Ram
  • Commodity
  • Energy Transition Natural Gas Oil Petrochemicals

Ineos Group Ltd. is seeking a new environmental permit for its Eur4 billion ethane cracker project in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, after a regional court annulled the plant's permit earlier this year, forcing the company to suspend construction work.

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The Council for Permit Disputes (CPD) overturned the permit for Ineos' so-called Project One at Antwerp in July. The permit had been approved in June 2022 by the regional government of Flanders, Belgium, and by the province of Antwerp in December 2021. A campaign by environmental groups and local residents, as well as by the provincial authorities of Brabant and Zeeland, the Netherlands, led to the permit being cancelled.

Ineos had planned to appeal the court's verdict, but this would take about a year, according to John McNally, CEO of Ineos Project One. Speaking to CW at the European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) Annual Meeting, taking place in Vienna. McNally said that rather than wait, Ineos had decided to take a different route. "An appeal will take a year, so we're trying to get a new permit," he said.

The court had ruled that Ineos failed to clarify to the authorities the full extent of the project's potential nitrogen emissions and that the Flanders government should not have approved it. Flanders currently lacks legislation on nitrogen pollution. The court's decision was based on a claim by the Brabant authority that expected nitrogen emissions from the planned cracker would damage habitats in a nearby nature reserve that is protected under EU law. It said that the Flemish government did not take these emissions properly into consideration when it approved the permit.

Flanders is working to introduce legislation on nitrogen pollution, and this should support Ineos' application for a new environmental permit, McNally told CW. Meanwhile, the company is gathering data and statistics to address the Brabant authority's claims. The two processes should be finalized at the end of November or in early December, and Ineos hopes to secure a new environmental permit for Project One at about that time, he said.

"The Belgian authorities support the project," McNally said. "Financial institutions and contractors are also still committed."

Ineos began construction work on Project One in December 2022, and it was scheduled to be commissioned in mid-2026 with full operation expected by early 2027. Ineos has not said whether the current halt to construction will delay the project's completion.

The plant, which will have capacity of 1.45 million mt/year of ethylene, is the first steam cracker to be built in Europe for a quarter of a century.

Ineos said earlier that the facility would be "the greenest cracker in Europe" with an environmental footprint "less than half that of a conventional naphtha cracker of its size."

This story was first published by S&P Global Commodity Insights' Chemical Week.