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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Passing the buck on Kaohsiung blasts

Passing the buck on Kaohsiung blasts

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Days after the catastrophic gas explosions in Greater Kaohsiung, the cause is still veiled behind layers of finger-pointing, while the blasts have revealed more tattered urban planning and broken governmental coordination than ruptured pipelines.

LCY Chemical Corp, widely believed to be the most likely suspect in the explosions, named CPC, Taiwan — the state-run company that installed the pipelines in the area in 1990 and within two years handed one of the three pipelines over to Taiwan Polysilicon Corp, which was later bought by and merged with LCY in 2006 — as the regular inspector and maintainer for the pipelines.

CPC denied that there was any contract between the two companies on routine inspection and maintenance and said that LCY was entirely responsible for its pipeline.

It was later revealed that the three pipelines in the box culvert for sewage and water drainage had been illegally installed from the start. They were supposed to avoid the culvert, but were placed in it through a hole reportedly created by CPC.

The opacity of the subterranean pipeline network revealed by the long-undetected violation partly explained why local authorities, unclear about the pipeline network, were slow to realize it was not natural gas that people smelled before the explosions.

The Kaohsiung City Government Public Works Bureau said it did not set up a public pipeline management platform until 2001 and that it has no record of aging pipelines unless their owners voluntarily report them. It also said the data CPC provided in 2001 came from its 1990 application for burying the pipelines, which were then all registered under CPC, rather than the data after 1993, when one of the pipelines was turned over to Taiwan Polysilicon Corp/LCY.

The Executive Yuan said all pipeline-installation records have been in the hands of the local government since 1993, passing the buck on the task of supervision to the city government.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs echoed the Cabinet’s stance, saying that the petrochemical companies’ pipelines carrying propene and ethylene are not covered by the Petroleum Administration Act (石油管理法), which stipulates that both “the approval of the central competent authority and [that of] the agency in charge of the land” are required.

The question of what happened before 1993, preceded by the CPC’s burying of the now problematic pipelines, seems to be missed.

When the ministry was busy differentiating the petroleum industry from the petrochemical industry and calling a National Taiwan University professor — who identified the ministry as the competent authority responsible for pipeline inspection under the Petroleum Administration Act — “unacquainted with the industry categorization,” it conveniently forgot that the ministry is also the competent authority over the petrochemical industrial park in Greater Kaohsiung.

When the central government said laying pipelines, regardless of the type of gas conveyed, fell under the jurisdiction of the local authorities, it missed the history of Greater Kaohsiung, a city where there have been many manifestations of central planning of heavy industries and where the country’s first naphtha cracking plant was established by CPC Kaohsiung oil refinery in 1968 (followed by the second, third, fourth and fifth cracking plants).

Not only has the city been constantly under the threat of pollution-related illnesses, but after 1999 the city government no longer directly benefited from these corporations’ business taxes, which now have to be paid to the central government for eventual distribution as the central government sees fit.

“No eggs were laid; only chicken shit was left,” is the Taiwanese proverb that Greater Kaohsiung people use, aptly, to express their feelings over the country’s long-time lopsided resource allocation, which is skewed against the south.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2014/08/06

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