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Possible Environmental Impacts of a Massive tank Explosion in the SONARA oil Refining Company
Category :- News Author :- By Amahnui George Amenchwi, PhD Research student in Natural resources and Environmental management. 
Posted on June 3, 2019, 1:33 pm

SONARA also known as Société Nationale de Raffinage in French owns and operates crude oil refinery in Cameroon. Founded in 1973, the company produces butane, gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene, fuel oil and distillate. With a capacity of over two million tons a year, their products are consumed in the national market and exported to international markets. The Limbe refinery has a theoretical capacity of 2,100,000 tonnes per year.

A massive explosion rocked one of the giant storage tanks at the SONARA oil refinery in Limbola, Limbe Fako State in the Rio del Rey oil basin on May 31, 2019. SONARA’s Unit 10 goes up in flames Eyewitnesses accounts have say they heard a big explosion coming from inside the refinery, followed by large plumes of smoke and flames that engulfed a section containing a large storage tank.

The large scale fires and the extensive black smoke following this incident are likely to have an impacts on air quality and surface and ground water resources around the area. A tremendous black cloud containing irritating substances rose more than 300 m off the ground.  Drawing experience from a similar incidence of oil tank explosions like Buncefield oil storage depot explosion in Great Britain in 2005, the smoke from the explosion in SONARA is likely to compose of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. A portion of the smoke generated by the fire rose in altitude and carried by wind currents throughout the Limbe city.  However the smoke composition and the atmospheric dispersion effect may not render any significant degradation in air quality attributable to this accident in the Limbe city.

Also a large portion of the extinction water used during this accident is likely not to be contained onsite and may be flowed into the natural environment, polluting the soil and both surface and underground water resources. As a result of this, pollution due to hydrocarbons and residue from firefighting is likely to be detected in ground water around this area and surface resources like the near Atlantic Ocean found just a few meters away from the accident site. This may have an effects on aquatic organisms in the Ocean found just nearby the incident site.

The massive explosion in the SONARA oil refinery has enormous economic consequences. Although the total cost of this accident is still not known in definitive terms the company through its general Manager, Jean-Paul Simo Njonou has declared a major termination of all production activities in the refinery for an indefinite period. It should be noted that the Limbe refinery has a theoretical capacity of 2,100,000 tons per year. This means that the termination of oil production activities for just one day will mean a lost in close to 5,754 tones. This is a significant economic lost to the government. Also the government will need to import more oil to meet national demand which my lead to worsening of the balance of payment (BOP) situation of the country. Importation of petroleum products may lead to high prices and this affect prices of almost all commodities in the country since they will need to be transported.

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