Damietta is an Egyptian city located at the intersection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile. Damietta is a major hub for natural gas distribution and utilization. Today Damietta is at standstill. The roads are blocked, the harbor is closed, Large-scale clashes between protesters and police have left two people dead and three injured on Sunday. Protesters say the pollution produced by MOPCO - Ammonia & Urea Fertilizer factory affects animal, plant and fish supplies in the city.
Environmental Impact Assessment
Most of the factory pollutants merge as a part of fluid effluent. The disposal of inadequately treated effluent causes harmful diseases and has a disastrous effect on living organisms and palm trees adjacent to the site. The fishing industry in Damietta had been greatly affected by MOPCO pollutants.
A technical committee of Egyptian scientists had been asked to prepare an environmental impact assessment for MOPCO site. Waste water generally containing high pH, ammonia, nitrogen, potassium, etc is pumped to the main waste water treatment plant in Ras El Bar. Sampling was performed from different locations and the test results did not comply with the Egyptian standards set by the ministry of Environment. After 70 days, the committee issued a report describing the situation and proposed 13 recommendations to put an end to the problem. The government of Egypt accepted 11 recommendations and rejected 2 critical suggestions causing the outrage of the Egyptian people in Damietta.
The Government Rejects Critical Recommendations
Consumption of water for a ton of urea varies from 9.0 to 40.0 m3 with the plant operating at 90% of its capacity. Each year, the factory needs 12 millions m3 of water. Currently, this large amount of water comes from the Nile river despite the fact that Egypt is the most water-stressed country in the Nile Basin. Water is badly needed for agriculture development in Damietta. The Egyptian government did not see the need for the construction of a sea water desalination plant on the Mediterranean, as per the committee suggestion to preserve the Nile water for irrigation purposes.
The government did not also agree about a permanent cancellation of MOPCO 2 and 3 expansions and decided to withhold the construction license until complying with the environmental requirements. MOPCO expansion projects are almost completed and production was scheduled to start early 2012. MOPCO expansions are financed by a 1.05 billion USD loan from 22 Egyptian banks including the National Bank of Egypt, Misr Bank, Societe General, and others. Failure to recover this money may put a big burden on the Egyptian financial system which is already suffering after Egypt uprising.
Plant shut down
After the outrage of Damietta people, the Egyptian government decided to shut down the plant until demonstration of compliance with environmental regulations. The Shut down procedure will last 36 hours. Inert materials such as water steam and nitrogen are usually used to cool down ammonia and hydrocarbons materials. According to Medhat Youssef, the chairman of MOPCO, the plant will loose 8 million Egyptian pounds every day during the shut down period. MOPCO has also contractual obligations and is currently revising delivery terms for the supply of 25.000 tons of fertilizers to Heliopotasse and other international buyers to avoid penalties.
Mubarak corrupted regime played an important role in planting MOPCO project in such densely populated area. Since 2005, Damietta People are struggling to get their life back and the Egyptian government was reluctant to take any measures to realize the environmental justice.
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MOPCO - Ammonia & Urea Fertilizer Plant -- Project Overview