Together with Group Technology we are investigating various solutions to meet South Africa’s new plant standards for air quality, as well as new waste laws. We are growing our clean fuels and octane capabilities and continuing to progress with the construction of our R6 billion sixth fine ash dam and the R3,7 billion coal tar filtration east project to address the single point failure business risk related to the existing coal tar filtration unit, as well as to increase tar-processing capacity. Secunda Synfuels has around 70 smaller environmental and safety projects in progress and planned over the next two financial years. We are also investigating digital opportunities to improve and manage the health of our equipment through predictive maintenance plans. We are preparing for a total full shutdown in September 2018, which will see approximately 20 000 contractors on site and will affect production volumes.
We expect the positive Natref performance over the six months to continue into 2019. We have invested R1,5 billion over the past two years at Natref to improve plant stability and replace significant machinery. With a planned shutdown scheduled for May 2019, Natref expects higher volumes in 2019. The extension of the shutdown cycles is expected to improve Natref’s plant availability and reduce capital requirements in the long term. In China, we plan to start-up our new ethoxylation facility in the second half of 2019, increasing output twofold. In the US, we expect the first units of the LCCP to start-up in the second half of calendar 2018.
Operations consists of our core chemical and petroleum product manufacturing assets. In Southern Africa these are Secunda Synfuels, Secunda Chemicals, Sasolburg, Satellite and Natref Operations. Internationally they include facilities in the US, Europe and Asia. The value proposition of these operation hubs lies in our ability to integrate and operate complex technologies at scale, with world-class product quality and cost advantages.
In line with our aim of ensuring safe, reliable and environmentally compliant facilities, our operations focused on optimising their processes, improving efficiency and promoting safety and culture transformation in the workplace. Our safety performance improved by 7%, largely because of safety awareness campaigns and a zero-tolerance approach to safety incidents. At the same time, we focused hard on embracing gender diversity and had 126 women join Synfuels Operations in the year. We also made various appointments of women to leadership positions across our operations.
Our operational performance was negatively impacted by unplanned Eskom electricity supply interruptions, as well as other plant outages and planned maintenance shutdowns. This resulted in a 3%, 1% and 9% decline in production volumes at Secunda Synfuels, Secunda Chemicals and Natref respectively. Sasolburg Operations increased production volumes by 2%, supported by our expanded wax facilities. Stronger product demand and greater plant availability led to a 3% increase in the production volumes of our Eurasian Operations, where a number of high-margin, low-volume marginal expansion projects started up. In the US, our HDPE joint venture reached beneficial operation and we advanced work in preparation of the start-up of the LCCP.
We made good progress on a number of environmental compliance projects across Southern Africa. At Secunda, we commissioned the last of the seven regenerative thermal oxidisers of the project for the abatement of VOCs amounting to R3,4 billion. We are investigating or developing technologies towards the abatement of various air emissions as well as options to reduce our waste footprint. Outside the factory fence, we are implementing offset projects including the insulation of houses, waste removal and vehicle emission testing.
Together with Group Technology we also insulated 500 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses as part of an environmental offsetting project. In Sasolburg, we cleaned up 100 illegal waste dumps, converting one into a playground. We supported job creation by giving away ash for brickmaking and road construction and extended our investment in neighbouring communities, by building a clinic, upgrading a provincial hospital, introducing a mobile science laboratory and providing bursaries. We remain committed to uplifting our fenceline communities and building partnerships to work together for the better of the community.