Project One, the name given to the new ethane cracker to be built by Ineos in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, was supposed to have the lowest carbon footprint of all European crackers; five times better than the worst in Europe and two times better than the best.
But the future of the new cracker now looks tenuous at best after the Flemish Council for Permit Disputes on July 20 revoked the permits issued in December 2021 by the province of Antwerp and the July 2022 permits for construction from the Flemish government.
The project is the first new cracker to be built in the region for over twenty years, as investments of this magnitude — expected to top $3 billion — have gone primarily to regions such as China, the United States and the Middle East. Ineos selected Antwerp as the site for the new cracker to "strengthen the resilience of the European chemical sector," the company explained.
According to Ineos, Project One would be climate-neutral within 10 years of the cracker's start-up, The target year for operation is 2026 as construction is expected to take approximately 4 years.
John McNally, CEO of Ineos Project One, called it the biggest investment in the chemical cluster in the port of Antwerp for decades. “Thousands of workers will be employed by contractors and subcontractors. Ineos shares the responsibility for deploying Antwerp job-seekers on this site,” he said.
Yet Project One has been a source of controversy from the start and, as construction of the cracker got underway, the project was almost immediately met with protests from Dutch and Flemish residents, and over a dozen environmental organizations. The legal nonprofit ClientEarth, acting with 13 other nongovernmental organizations, filed a suit contesting the permit granted to Ineos, stating that Project One failed to meet the legal requirements and should not go ahead.
Separately, the authorities of Zeeland and North Brabant in the Netherlands also decided to take legal action, arguing that the permit for Project One had been issued without an appropriate environmental impact assessment being made. An assessment had been made, but this did not meet the definition of "appropriate" in its consideration of the impact of the nitrogen emissions from the cracker on the nature reserves in the ports of Flanders and the Netherlands.
The nature reserve known as the Brabantse Wal, protected under the European Habitats Directive, was a specific concern. In such cases, a government may only grant a permit after it has ascertained that the project will not adversely affect the integrity of the site in question.
The Flemish Disputes Council has now upheld the complaint filed by the Dutch provinces, ruling that Flanders should not have granted planning permission without studying the environmental effect on the protected area. It declared that "as the permit has now been annulled, Ineos Olefins Belgium no longer has permission to carry out work on the ethane cracker. The Flemish government now has a period of six months to once again decide on the permit application."
ICIS reported yesterday that according to a spokesperson, Ineos is currently taking legal advice regarding next steps.
Elsewhere, the news was received with dismay. Voka, the Chamber of Commerce for Antwerp-Waasland called the cancelation of the permit ‘a blow to the Flemish economy’ and a ‘threat to Flanders as a potential investment location’.
“The international investment climate in Flanders was thrown a devastating huge uppercut today,” it stated in response to the news. "What company would now dare take the risk of investing in our economy? The Government of Flanders bears great responsibility for this failure. ... This judgement sends a disastrous signal to foreign investors in Europe and beyond.”