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Ineos cracker project halted by Belgian court

Environmental impact of Europe’s largest chemical investment in 20 years is ruled as too big

by Alex Scott
July 26, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 25


An oceangoing vessel that carries ethane.
Credit: Ineos
If Ineos is cleared to build the cracker, it may ship in low-cost ethane from the US as feedstock.

Ineos’s plan to build Europe’s largest and greenest ethylene cracker in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, has been knocked back after a Belgian court ruled that the facility would generate unacceptable levels of nitrous oxide.

The court is requiring Ineos to immediately stop all work on the project, a $3.3 billion cracker with capacity to make 1 million metric tons of ethylene per year. In announcing the project in 2019, Ineos called it Europe’s biggest chemical investment in more than 20 years. The chemical giant has 30 days from the July 20 ruling to appeal.

The judges ruled in favor of North Brabant, a nearby region of the Netherlands, which claimed that nitrous oxide emissions from the proposed plant would adversely affect a nature reserve. Potential impacts include eutrophication of water bodies with knock-on effects for a variety of species, including migrating birds.

“The courts are required to take into account the cumulative impact of the proposed plant on the environment,” says Tatiana Luján, a lawyer at ClientEarth, an environmental organization that is also suing Ineos. In this case, nitrogen levels in the area are already high because of agriculture and automotive traffic. The proposed plant would be “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Luján says.

Ineos has yet to disclose how it will respond. “We are obviously disappointed. We are now in consultation with our lawyers, carefully studying the decision in order to understand it and to review our options,” the firm says.

To win an appeal, Ineos would have to demonstrate that the court made serious errors. “I don’t see these errors,” Luján says.

If Ineos does not appeal the ruling, the regional government of Flanders has up to 6 months to decide whether construction can go ahead. If Ineos appeals and wins, the legal situation would remain unclear since two additional cases are still pending.

In one of the cases, the Dutch region of Zeeland is attempting to stop construction of the plant unless a nitrous oxide abatement system is installed.

In a third legal action, 13 non-government organizations, including ClientEarth, have brought a broader and more complex case against Ineos based on the would-be plant’s impact on local habitats and people, the climate, and freshwater resources. As part of its case, ClientEarth asserts that the plant should not be built because much of the carbon in polymers made with its output will soon end up in the atmosphere.



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