In 1859 Edwin L. Drake drilled the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania in the United States. Two years later, the port of Antwerp – located at that time near the city centre in a part of the city known today as ‘het Eilandje’ (little island) – functioned as the European distribution hub for petroleum, which at that time was transported in wooden barrels. By 1863, Antwerp was the largest oil importer in Europe.
For more than 20 years the city’s oil activities remained in the port, until capacity and safety issues forced the city to find an alternative location for these activities. In 1887 a huge fire engulfed the petroleum installations, with 52 lives lost, 42 missing, and the destruction of the city’s warehouses. Moreover, oil was being delivered more and more in bulk which required wharves to which the ships could moor. This is how the historical area of the Hoboken Polder, just south of the city, came into the picture.
In 1900, the city of Antwerp bought 54 hectares or the Hoboken Polder for 45,000 Belgian francs (1,115 euros) and in 1902, the construction work began. The ground was raised by 1,5 metres, and small channels and streams were rerouted, and the existing straight quays were lengthened by a kilometre. In 1904, a tram line from the city was opened, and along with it came rail lines and the Kiel train station, which was built specifically for Petroleum Zuid (Petroleum South). The wharf was also built, and on 16 August the first oil tanker moored. By the end of 1904, the basic infrastructure on 30 hectares of the terrain had been completed.
In 1914 further expansion of the area began. But World War 1 put a spanner in the works. From 1919, the petroleum port took off again, with some 233 petroleum tanks on the site by the end of the 1920s.
A final expansion occurred in 1934. But due to a pressing lack of space, the first refinery in the port area to the north of the city was constructed.
Initially the oil was pumped from the pier to the facilities on site through underground pipes. But soon multiple leaks occurred that allowed large amounts of oil to leak into the ground, causing severe pollution of the area. After lengthy discussions, the leaking underground pipes were replaced from 1937 to 1939 by aboveground pipes. With the outbreak of World War 2, the dynamic of Petroleum South was ruined.
At the end of the 1940s, the Marshall Dock was built to the north of the city, and two years later came the Kruisschans lock. From that point, the centre of Antwerp’s oil industry was in the north. In 1953, 4,3 million tons of oil were processed in Antwerp, with only 405,000 tons of this at Petroleum South. Gradually the companies left, with the exception of the four enterprises that remain active today on the site.
In 2001, the first ideas were put forward for the redevelopment of Petroleum South with the support of the European Urban II-programme and the Flemish government. In 2006 the project got a new stimulus through an agreement between the city of Antwerp and the Province of Flanders to decontaminate and redevelop the site. In 2007 the project partnership GO IPZ nv was established in the framework of this agreement as the operational arm for the preparation of the decontamination and redevelopment of the ‘Investment Zone Petroleum South’. The agreement was approved by the City Council of Antwerp.
In 2009, the city of Antwerp and the Flemish government formally agreed to give the mandate to GO IPZ nv to carry out the decontamination and redevelopment of the site within the framework of an agreed business plan and a list of terms that was still to be drafted. In the same year, the Flemish government approved the ‘Brownfield covenant’ for ‘Investment Zone Petroleum South’.
In mid-2010 the order was given to set up a Master Plan Petroleum South. Other preparations were also made to make the site ready for building. Finally, the economic profile of the site was clarified.
On 23 March the name of the ‘Investment Zone Petroleum South’ was changed to Blue Gate Antwerp, with an emphasis on the eco-effective, international and future-oriented character of the site.
In June, the strategic Master Plan was delivered by Blue Gate Antwerp nv.
In November the starting gun sounded for the EIA (environmental impact assessment), which would analyse the environmental effects of the redevelopment of the site.
In May the project was presented to the public, as part of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). The public and the various administrative services involved were given the chance to comment on the initiative. All in all the comments were limited, indicating a solid base of support for Blue Gate Antwerp.
In June essenscia Flanders – in partnership with Blue Gate Antwerp – received approval from Agentschap Ondernemen (Enterprise Agency) for the proposed project BlueChem. BlueChem fits within the framework of the Flemish government’s call for ‘Fabriek van de Toekomst’ (Factory of the Future) within its new industrial policy and aims to develop a business model as an incubator/accelerator for a sustainable chemical industry.
In July Blue Gate Antwerp launched a call to the private sector for the setting up of a public-private partnership for the decontamination and development of the site.
In September project partner Waterzegen & Zeekanaal NV (Waterways and Sea Canal, llc) put out a call for the development of the first phase of the logistics zone, including the cluster quays.