Taiwan may scrap a contentious plan to build a major petrochemical complex on reclaimed land on its western coast amid claims it could cause the extinction of an endangered species of dolphin, officials said.
The plan to build the $20 billion complex to refine crude oil and produce ethylene has been stalled for five years, after failing to pass a series of environmental tests.
Speaking late Wednesday, Economics Minister Shih Yen-hsiang said private investors in the Kuokuang petrochemical complex may want to move it overseas because of "ever-increasing costs."
On Thursday, deputy economics minister Huang Chung-chiou said Malaysia and Indonesia are now among the favored choices for the project.
The Kuokuang complex, supported by Taiwan's Chinese Petroleum Corporation and several private investors, was meant to be built on reclaimed land near a string of wetlands in central Taiwan's Changhua county. Slated to replace an aging facility scheduled for closure in 2015, it has already been scaled down by half amid fierce environmental protests.
Residents of the area say the complex could lead to the extinction of the endangered pink-hued Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, which frequently congregates in waters around Changhua.
Taiwanese environmentalists say this kind of dolphin swims in waters of some 60 feet (20 meters). In the Changhua area that is close enough to shore so that the small fish it eats to survive would be polluted by effluent from the proposed complex, they said.
Kuokuang spokeswoman Chen Shu-chen has disputed the contention, saying the dolphins do not get close enough to Changhua's shores to be at risk.