Published On: Tue, Oct 3rd, 2017

A refinery at Bullenbaai; Not so fast!

22215291_10212501327121498_925321291_nFor the past couple of years, and more intensively during the last, there has been a lot of public discussions about reconstructing the Isla refinery in the Bullenbaai area; next to COT, the Curaçao Oil Terminal. A case study performed some years ago deemed such project not feasible due to the huge costs and investments incurred in the dismantling of the old plants and the cleaning of the ground left behind. There has even been a nice project on the table called Green Town, which promoted the replacement of the refinery with an environmentally friendly, multi-industry development.

The option was presented to the Chinese investors to rebuild the refinery at the Bullenbaai 22236264_10212501328961544_2118673288_narea and they positively received it. Well, in the position they are and with the agenda China has been working on, they would surely move on the opportunity given to them. But is that so easy?

We currently have a bunkering and transhipment terminal at Bullenbaai which, thanks to the geography of the bay, has the capacity and space to handle the biggest vessels currently navigating the seas. On land, besides the oil terminal, we have a geographical formation that promotes and sustains an important portion of our flora and fauna.

22236077_10212501328601535_1648794654_nThe area to the east of Bullenbaai contains a wetland and forest whom together sustain important ecosystems. Due to the enormous value of the area, the Curaçao government declared the wetland area a Ramsar designated area. The Ramsar treaty was adopted in 1971 in Ramsar Iran. The treaty came into force in 1975 is kept in place by the United Nations members. The main goal of the Ramsar Convention is the protection and management of internationally important wetlands. Wetlands tend to be neglected but they play a very important role in the sustaining and proliferation of world ecosystems.

The Ramsar designated area runs from the north-east of Bullenbaai oil terminal all the way to Komo beach (Vearsenbaai). West of the terminal there’s also another plot of land designated as a natural conservation area. The question is: Where shall the refinery be constructed? On the Ramsar designated areas or on the natural reserve? Where?

22207265_10212501328361529_1126050520_nWe cannot simply bulldoze the area wiping out the ecosystems in place to build the refinery there. It’s a huge portion of protected and ecologically important land. And then comes the issues of pollution. Most of the time people talk about pollution, especially when addressing the refinery, they mostly shed light on the toxic fumes that are released into our atmosphere. In reality, there are different kinds of pollution that need to be considered.

To begin with, there is light pollution.  As we know, animals are very sensitive to changes in their habitat and artificial stress. The effect of light pollution on ecosystems is already becoming a big issue around the world. It’s also an issue for human beings. And as we make use of technologically advanced lights with more illumination, the issue of light pollution just keeps on escalating. As we all notice while crossing the Juliana Bridge, the refinery has a lot of lights on every night. And besides the lights, there are the giant flares that illuminate22264768_10212501328561534_1760436525_n the sky while burning chemicals. Imagine the effect all these lights would have in an area where it's usually dark, enabling the ecosystems to do their thing.

Another form of pollution would be sound pollution. Refineries operate heavy equipment whom produce a significant amount of noise. From afar you can sometimes hear plants operating giving away a constant sound. Animals are quite sensitive to sounds and this would surely hinder their survival in the discussed area.

But most importantly, the construction of the refinery would need a vast amount of land area. That would mean wiping out the vegetation to create a green field to construct the plants. This bulldozing of vegetation would annihilate the ecosystems completely, forcing animals to migrate to other areas on the island; who are also being bulldozed for housing and other developments. Such an exodus will pressure the fauna of Curaçao greatly and even directly reduce the number of some given species. Not to mention the international importance of the wetlands.

It’s actually quite remarkable that up to this moment, no local environmental protection organizations or advocates have ringed the bell. Nor did the aviation industry ring the bell on the fact that such a development would hinder the approach path of aircraft. It’s remarkable.

Let’s sit back and see what the future holds. One thing is certain though, it is unacceptable to, again and again, trample on the environment, who supports us all. Otherwise one day our flora and fauna may not be there anymore. We have to pick up our God-given role of environmental stewards. For the time being, we need to guarantee the continuation of the refining industry, while the sun is still up. But the idea of reconstruction of the refinery in the Bullenbaai area must be cleared to move forward.

By Eduard Michel


Photos: Eduard Michel

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