Sasol’s bid to exempt Secunda from emission limits fails

Sasol’s bid to have sulfur dioxide emissions at its Secunda petrochemical complex, the world’s biggest single-site source of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, exempted from limits to be imposed in 2025 has failed.

The decision by South Africa’s national air quality officer comes as Barbara Creecy, the country’s environment minister, steps up pressure on the nation’s two biggest polluters, Eskom and Sasol, to comply with emissions limits.

The ruling, which Sasol will appeal, pertains to emissions of sulfur dioxide from the coal-fired boilers at the plant in the northeast of the country.

The Johannesburg-based company said it has complied with the limits imposed on the bulk of emissions sources at Secunda and its other plants.

Sulfur dioxide pollution has been tied to acid rain, respiratory disease, strokes and heart attacks.

“If sulfur-dioxide emissions from Secunda are not addressed, everything else is window dressing,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, by text.

Sasol, South Africa’s biggest company by revenue, had applied to have the concentration of the pollutant in its emissions measured using an alternative method to the one used by the environment department, it said in the statement. The limits it must comply with come into force on April 1, 2025.

The company has spent more than R7 billion over the past year curbing emissions from its Secunda and Sasolburg plants and its Natref oil refinery, it said.

The most effective way of cutting sulfur dioxide pollution is through the installation of flue-gas desulfurization units that both Sasol and Eskom have previously said could cost billions of dollars to install and would need significant supplies of lime and water.

Still, air pollution in the area around coal-fired plants operated by Sasol and Eskom east and south of Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city, rivals and sometimes exceeds levels in some of the most polluted cities on Earth.

The pollution has been tied to hundreds of deaths a year by researchers.

For the fiscal year through June 2022, Secunda produced 137,300 tons of sulfur oxides and 49.2 million tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide, or its equivalent, directly from its plants and assets. That’s more greenhouse gases than either Norway or Portugal. Sulfur dioxide, produced alongside greenhouse gases, doesn’t warm the planet.

Secunda is the eighth-biggest source of sulfur dioxide in South Africa after seven coal-fired power plants owned by Eskom, according to data compiled by Myllyvirta.

The decision comes a day after Sasol was told it may be prosecuted for excessive pricing of natural gas in South Africa.