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Lawyers and activists from the Idku Workers Union accuse a company contracted by the Rashid Petroleum Company (Rashpetco), a joint venture between a state-owned petroleum firm and multinationals, of dumping waste in their waters and fields.
Their claims against the company in question, Green Valley Oil Service, are supported by the Idku-based representative of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, the government body responsible for overseeing environmental issues.
Ahmed Ibrahim Abdel Latif Tagsheen of the Idku EEAA branch told Egypt Independent: “I received notification from the EEAA today of decision No. 17 to shut down Green Valley’s operations. A Green Valley truck driver, Mohamed Ismail from Amreya in Alexandria, is at the police station now and has given testimony of the fact that drivers were told by Green Valley to dump the waste anywhere.”
He added: “We also found two vehicles on 25 March with registered numbers 3367 and 6124 throwing waste in a residential area and on agricultural land in an area called Ibli, near the international road.”
Idku Workers Union activists told Egypt Independent on a recent trip to Idku that the affair began when Green Valley’s waste-dumping site in Borg al-Arab, Alexandria, was shut down a few months ago due to local opposition. Since then, Green Valley has had nowhere to dump its waste, and so it has been doing so illegally in Idku’s canals and agricultural fields.
On this basis, over the last two weeks, activists have been capturing Green Valley truck drivers and taking them to the local police station in an attempt to curb their activities.
They obtained a document from one of the drivers, which Egypt Independent has seen, showing that the truck received the waste from Rashpetco on 14 March, but the next day lacked a signature of receipt to prove it had dumped waste at a Green Valley site. This, they say, is further indication that Green Valley is dumping the waste anywhere.
Green Valley has denied the accusations.
“We have evidence that what the locals are saying is rubbish,” Medhat al-Guindy, Green Valley’s managing director, told Egypt Independent over the phone.
“Six to eight weeks ago, we started having problems with the local population stopping truck drivers and accusing them of dumping their load onto agricultural lands,” he said. “But not even idiots would do this, because the fine is very high. Our reputation is also very valuable to us.
“We are researching now what to do to resolve the dispute in Idku, but no decision has been made yet,” Guindy added.
Green Valley’s business development manager, Mohamed Abdel Salam, also told Egypt Independent that in the two months since the Borg al-Arab site was shut down, the company has been treating Rashpetco’s waste at its alternative site at Salhiya in Ismailia.
Early this year, locals staged protests at the Borg al-Arab site due to fears about its environmental impact, so it was forcibly shut down. However, Guindy said it had recently been reopened following a public hearing and approvals from the military, EEAA and a research institute in Borg al-Arab.
Green Valley received the tender to treat Rashpetco’s waste in 2008, and spent US$10 million building the treatment site at Borg al-Arab. It began operating in 2011.
Prior to employing Green Valley, Rashpetco used the Egyptian Maintenance Company to treat its waste in the Western Desert, Rafaat al-Beltagy, vice chairman for field development at the state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company, told Egypt Independent.
The maintenance company had a four-year contract with Rashpetco, after which the tender came up for renewal and Green Valley offered a better price for the contract, Beltagy said.
A source from BG Group, a Britain-based multinational natural gas company that owns part of Rashpetco, told Egypt Independent that the company is looking for alternative ways to treat its waste — one that does not rely on trucks given the diesel shortages Egypt is facing. This has caused delays for its truck drivers delivering waste to the treatment site.
The Green Valley dumping dispute is the latest episode in an ongoing battle between Idku activists and Rashpetco, which in 2006 was found by the EEAA to be dumping an illegal amount of toxic waste into the Mediterranean Sea off Idku’s shores.
Locals say this caused a decline in fish stocks, specifically of the Om al-Kholoul fish, and killed guava trees. Fishermen and farmers make up around 80 percent of the local population.
The 2006 incident is still being fought out in the courts. Idku-based lawyer Emad Ahmed Zeitoun told Egypt Independent: “The 2006 incident caused 6,000 acres of agricultural land in Idku to die and this was supported by a report from the EEAA. The latest court verdict was issued on 26 December 2011, fining Rashpetco for the incident.”
The BG source said this decision is being appealed.
Rashpetco is 50 percent-owned by the state-run Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation, with the remaining 50 percent split between the UK’s BG Group and Malaysia’s Petronas. The joint venture has another subsidiary, called Burullus Gas Company, that is also operational in Idku.
These companies are responsible for developing offshore gas fields in the Mediterranean that supply Egypt’s domestic market and the export market in Europe.