Taipei/Singapore — At more than 7,000 years-old, the Datan algal reef was probably alive and humming before humans domesticated the horse.

Now, the rocky shoal, which stretches along Taiwan’s northern coastline and is home to an endangered coral species, is at risk from a $2bn liquefied natural gas (LNG) import project, local activists say.

The venture is pitting environmental campaigners against the Tsai Ing-wen-led government, which has voiced support for the plant as it pivots towards cleaner burning fuels and renewables. Activists have said they are on pace to collect enough signatures to trigger a referendum, the Central News Agency reported on  Monday, which could occur as early as August.

Opposition to the import terminal presents another hurdle for Taiwan’s huge energy transition strategy, which targets phasing out nuclear power by 2025 and increasing the share of natural gas to 50% of the power mix. Gas was at almost 36% of the mix in 2020, and importing more LNG is the only option for the government to meet its target.

“The government respects that a referendum demonstrates public opinion,” Taiwan premier Su Tseng-chang said to reporters on Tuesday. “On the other hand, we also need to ensure stability in electricity supply, which benefits the public and industries.”

Underwater photography shows there was no algae reef ecology in the construction area of Guantang industrial port, according to a statement on owner CPC’s website. The government has trimmed the size of the project 90% to 23ha to meet environmental protection guidelines, Taiwan’s minister of economic affairs Wang Mei-hua said in a Facebook post in February.

​Natural gas and LNG, once touted as bridge fuels to smooth the transition away from coal, have come under increased opposition from green groups seeking to combat climate change and ecological harm. Ireland recently scrapped two proposed LNG import terminals, while in November, France’s Engie halted plans to buy LNG from a US developer due to pollution concerns.

The Taiwan venture, which would be CPC’s third LNG terminal, is scheduled for completion in 2025 and will cost 60.1-billion new Taiwan dollars ($2.2bn), according to the company’s website. The project passed an evaluation by the Environmental Protection Administration in 2018.


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