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Shut down operations

Environmentalists fear eco-disaster...
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
A backhoe operator is seen carrying out clean-up operations along Queen’s Beach, La Brea, yesterday. PHOTO: TONY HOWELL Inset: A rescue worker cleans off an oil-covered bird which was rescued from the waters off the south-western peninsula over the weekend. Photo courtesy Papa Bois Conservation

Environmentalists yesterday warned the Government that the ongoing oil spill along the south-western peninsula could result in a major eco-disaster, with one of them calling on Petrotrin and Trinmar to immediately shut down their transmission systems until the source of the spill is detected and stopped. 



The call was made by environmental lobbyist and secretary of Fishermen & Friends of the Sea, Gary Aboud, even as Petrotrin admitted yesterday that it still had not detected the source of the spill which had mainly affected the La Brea community. “Why haven’t they shut down all their pipelines? This is the logical thing to do,” Aboud told the T&T Guardian. He added: “The livelihoods of 52,000 fisherfolk continue to be at risk and every living thing is being killed right now.”


Aboud said “absolutely nothing” was being done to deal with the impact of the spill and virtually dismissed the hiring of the Florida-based Oil Spill Response Ltd by the Government. Officials from the company arrived in the country yesterday, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said.


Aboud felt the bigger problem was finding the source of the spill. He claimed that the companies’ transmission systems were not shut down because it was more profitable to continue to pump oil than to shut down because of a two or three per cent oil spill. “The damage they are causing will take decades to repair. The contaminant doesn’t disappear, it just goes out of sight,” he said, indicating the long-term effects.



History of leaks

Asked to comment on Petrotrin’s claim of suspected sabotage, he said: “Sabotage is a very convenient excuse for incompetence and gross negligence.” Aboud said in 2003, then chairman of the Institute of Marine Affairs, Professor John Agard, said there were 20,000 leaks in gas transmission pipelines in the Gulf of Paria alone. “Are the politicians saying those are 20,000 sabotage leaks? What has any minister in any government and any CEO in any state company done about these leaks?


“If I can see what was done, I would have comfort in withdrawing the accusation of gross negligence,” he said. Aboud said most state board members were political appointees who had not satisfied the criteria of competence. He said fisherfolk, the largest and oldest stakeholders of the sea, were not represented on any state boards.



The hiring of a foreign clean-up crew was not a emergency contingency plan but an act of helplessness, he added. Aboud said Fishermen & Friends of the Sea had presented an emergency response plan to the then government in 2003 and it was ignored. “It was a better plan than what we are seeing now,” he said. He said one of the main proposals was that all companies in the energy sector should fund emergency response equipment and get involved in resolving a crisis.



“But today, BP and BHP are sitting pretty saying that’s Petrotrin’s problem.” Meanwhile, environmentalist Stephen Broadbridge yesterday sent out an urgent call for volunteers to assist in cleaning up birds affected by the oil spill. Broadbridge said his fellow Papa Bois Conservation director Marc de Verteuil, a T&T Guardian columnist, had been working almost single-handedly to save pelicans, skimmers and other sea birds since oil spills, beginning last Tuesday, devastated parts of the southwestern coastline.


“As we speak, Marc is down there now,” he added. Broadbridge, an honorary game warden, said the scale of the spills was akin to a disaster but was being underestimated and underplayed. “The response has been far too slow for something of this scale. A lot of wildlife would have died and sunk to the bottom of the ocean,” he said. 



De Verteuil, with limited resources and little assistance, has been collecting birds from the blackened coastline, taking them ashore and carefully washing each one with dishwashing liquids and drying them with paper towels. “A lot of the birds have not been collected because there is no manpower and a lot of those collected have died,” Broadbridge reported. He said people were trained for this but none turned up at the scene.


“But more are getting stuck in the oil. We have an appeal on Facebook for soap, paper towels and volunteers. We have collected some but it’s not enough.” He said apart from Papa Bois and one person from Petrotrin no one else has been helping. Broadbridge said the group would also need help to transport birds from La Brea to the Wildlife Orphanage and Rehabilitation Centre (WORC), Diego Martin. So far they have only been able to send two birds to the centre. 


He said damage-testing also needed to be done to determine the effect of the spill on fish and other sea creatures, like plankton, shrimp and crustacean. “Toxins from the oil could get into these creatures and the food chain and this can cause long-term health problems,” he warned. Broadbridge referred to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which US government studies said caused lung diseases and other abnormalities in dolphins. “There’s no such thing as a total clean-up,” he said.


Contacted yesterday, Environmental Management Authority communications specialist Nicole Bachan said it was aware of the conservation group’s problem and was working on it.


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