OPAZ issues controls of environmental permits in special economic zones and free zones

28 March 2021

HE Dr. Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, Chairman of the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones (OPAZ), issued a decision regarding the controls for organising and issuing environmental permits in the special economic zones and free zones in the Sultanate.

Lubna bint Hamoud Al Sabari, Environmental Specialist at the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones, pointed out that the decision applies to all projects developed in the special economic zones and free zones. It specified the procedures for obtaining environmental permits, as well as identified the projects that require preparing a detailed environmental assessment study for their potential impacts.

According to the decision, the projects established in the special economic zones and free zones have been classified into three (3) categories based on the their impacts to the environment and health of human beings, based on their nature, location, materials used in production and production capacity. The First Category includes high-risk projects, as identified in Annex No (1).

These projects are required to submit their environmental and social impacts assessment study. Among the most prominent projects of this category are those related to the development and management of industrial plans, logistics storage sites, fishing ports and fish industries complexes, tourist villages with an area of ​​10 hectares or more, chemicals and oil storage tanks of around ​​5 hectares and more, heavy industries, oil refineries, chemical and petrochemical industries, power plants, seawater desalination plants with a production capacity of over one million cubic metres per year, and fish farming projects with a production capacity of more than 500 tonnes per year for the localised fish and any quantity of unusual species. 

The Second Category includes projects with medium environmental risk, which require submitting environmental management plan. However, the Third Category is for projects with low environmental risk, requiring compliance with the specified general and technical environmental requirements, while submitting an environmental and social impact assessment study or an environmental management plan is not required.

Commenting on this decision, Lubna Al Sabari, stated, “Through this decision, OPAZ is intending to facilitate the procedures for investors and accelerate the issuance of environmental permits. For instance, the environmental permits for projects falling into the second and third categories are issued prior establishing the projects. These permits will be issued in five (5) working days for the Third Category projects, while it takes ten (10) working days for the Second Category projects. However, for the projects that require developing an environmental assessment study, it takes a maximum of 30 working days for reviewing the environmental permit applications. This process serves to avoid the negative impacts of such projects, which require a thorough evaluation before granting the environmental permit”.

In accordance with the decision, the concerned Environmental Regulatory Department at the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones shall categorise all chemicals based on the international classifications, including the global system for classification and labeling of chemicals. The Department also develops guidelines for all phases of the chemicals safe management procedures and compiles an inventory of banned and restricted chemicals and those dealing with these chemicals. Moreover, the Department collects data and information related to the conditions of using, transporting, storing, handling and disposing chemicals.

“Projects must register the hazardous materials used, manufactured or produced as waste with the concerned department. As well, projects shall obtain the necessary permits to deal with chemicals as per the defined legal standards and controls and the procedures of Basel Convention. Further, projects are required to provide the concerned department with information, maps and plans of the sites allocated for storing and using radioactive materials, which are approved by the concerned authorities”, Lubna Al Sabari, Environmental Specialist at the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones (OPAZ) explained.

Al Sabari also stressed that the new decision prohibits the import or export of hazardous materials and any hazardous waste listed in the Basel Convention without obtaining a permit from the concerned department at OPAZ. 

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