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EMA exec: Environmental impact a major concern

Recommends restructuring focus on ecological risks
Published: 
Thursday, June 29, 2017

The following is a statement from Hayden Romano, managing director of the Environmental Management Authority

Petrotrin’s extensive operations—including its activities and infrastructure—encompass both onshore and offshore operations, with embedded environmental risks in several aspects of its production. A number of the company’s facilities are not subject to the Environmental Management Act (EM Act, Chap. 35: 05) and Rules as these activities pre-dated/were in existence prior to the enactment of the act and rules.

At present, Petrotrin has over 300 Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CECs) for its activities including, exploration, drilling, installation of pipelines and construction activities at its facilities. The EMA actively monitors these CECs and the seven water pollution permits (WPR) issued to Petrotrin to ensure compliance.

Petrotrin has submitted documents and sampling as required by the various permits and has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that its effluent discharges meet the second schedule of the Water Pollution Rules, 2001 (as amended) (WPR).

This included a project in Los Bajos to establish a produced water treatment plant as a pilot project to ensure that produced water was able to meet the permissible levels of the second schedule of the WPR prior to discharge.

However, despite Petrotrin’s efforts at complying with the CEC Rules, 2001 and the WPR, several hydrocarbon, spill incidents have occurred over the years, with large spills occurring in 2013/2014 and in April 2017.

Petrotrin’s ageing infrastructure has been publicly enunciated as the single largest contributory factor to the increasing size and frequency of the hydrocarbon releases from its operations. The EMA recommends that Petrotrin conducts cost/benefit analyses as the benefits of action with respect to its social/environmental responsibility far outweighs the costs associated with these incidents.

The EMA continues to collaborate with other regulatory agencies to investigate the latest hydrocarbon release (April 23) to determine the root cause(s) of the failure of the storage tank at its Pointe-a-Pierre facility.

In the meantime, the EMA has requested risk assessments and asset integrity reports from Petrotrin to assist in proactively identifying any potential future incidents, particularly at the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.

The repeated occurrence of hydrocarbon releases, especially into the Gulf of Paria from Petrotrin’s refinery and offshore crude oil production activities is cause for concern.

The EMA, with Petrotrin, is at present leading an effort to develop and conduct an ecological risk assessment of the coastal zone and nearshore areas affected by hydrocarbon releases from Pointe-a-Pierre to Icacos.

International testing of fish and shrimp samples taken from eight fishing locations in the Gulf Paria (October 2016) revealed that the fish sampled were safe for human consumption.

The ecological risk assessment will be used to inform any future mediation efforts, as well as, the approach to management of industrial impacts from oil, gas and petrochemical activities in the Gulf of Paria.

Disruptions to livelihoods such as fishing, shrimping and associated activities (vending and fish processing) are all impacts that the EMA recognises.

The EMA believes it is in the best interest of all affected stakeholders—communities, civil society, academia, Petrotrin and government—to collaborate to develop improved planning, management and response mechanisms to reduce the impacts from hydrocarbon spills from the oil industry.

The EMA urges that any plan on the way forward with respect to the restructuring of Petrotrin’s operations seriously takes into account the environmental impact of the operations and the concerns of fence line communities and affected stakeholders.