The Flemish government believes that the Netherlands is exaggerating the amounts of nitrogen blowing across the border from Belgium.
The objections of the Dutch provinces of Zeeland and North Brabant to a permit to build an ethylene plant in Antwerp do not stand up. This is what the lawyer who acted on behalf of Flanders said during a session of the Licensing Disputes Board today in Brussels.
14 environmental associations, Zeeland and Noord-Brabant have challenged the permit for the first project, as the plant is called. It’s a multi-billion dollar project for chemical group Ineos.
For Zeeland and North Brabant, the question is whether nitrogen emissions from the first project will harm the protected natural areas of Westerschelde, Saeftinghe, Oosterschelde and Wal Brabantse. According to the provinces, this matter has not been properly investigated. And as far as the Brabantse Wal is concerned, the values present are already so high that nothing more can be added. Brabant already has a stopping permit due to high nitrogen values. Nobody wants extra nitrogen, not even from the outside.
Miscalculation and overestimation
In the Netherlands it is very difficult to agree on the accounts, let alone when it comes to nitrogen moving from one country to another. However, the Dutch accounts on the Flemish emissions are not very good, according to them in Flanders. The Flemish State Advocate spoke of “miscalculations” and “exaggerations”. He called it “an example of irony” that the Netherlands was now vetoing this strategically important project, while Rotterdam was also in line with that.
British chemical group Ineos is building an ethane cracker near Lillo in the Antwerp port area. This plant, the first project, will produce ethylene from ethane, a leftover product from shale gas extraction in the United States. Ethylene is an essential raw material for plastics. Ineos says the cracker will be the most sustainable in Europe by far. Greenhouse gas emissions are half to a third of ethane cracking now in operation. The project will cost 3.5 billion euros. The first project is, according to Ineos, “the most important and largest investment in the European chemicals sector in the last 20 years.”. The factory is scheduled to start operating in 2026 and will create 450 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs.
Innius and the Flemish government, in contrast to the provinces, believed that it had been properly investigated whether nature deteriorated further as a result of the first venture. Nowhere were the limits set by the Flemish government exceeded. Also in the Netherlands, grams of nitrogen per hectare remain within the margins, they said.
But according to the two counties, that doesn’t say it all. It’s not just about the gram, it’s about the effect of the extra nitrogen. This can vary by plant or animal. And this is where the provinces lack all the investigations of Ennius and the Flemish government. The provincial government has long said destroying the permit is not the point, but Zeeland demands compliance with the nitrogen rules.
Environmental associations have several objections to the plant. Ineos and the Flemish government do not understand this, because Ineos’ new ethane cracker is cleaner and more sustainable than others.
The Permit Disputes Board is expected to issue its decision in June. Preparatory work for the construction of the plant has already begun.
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