A high-powered team of Petrotrin officials told the National Security Council yesterday there was now strong evidence that a direct and wilful act of sabotage was responsible for two of the 11 oil spills in south-western Trinidad. The team told the council it was found that two three-inch bull plugs were removed from the Rancho Quemado well and a 16-inch flange from Riser Platform Five at Point Fortin was deliberately tampered with. Specialised tools are required to conduct such activity, they reported.
The two wells are operated by Trinity Oil. Petrotrin chairman Lindsay Gillette made the announcement to members of the media at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair yesterday, shortly after he and the Petrotrin team met with the National Security Council and reported their findings. “You need a very large wrench to remove the plugs,” Gillette said. “At Riser, there are pictures of the oil spurting out. You have to loosen the nut for the oil to spill.”
The Petrotrin team who met the council and updated members of the media were president Khalid Hassanali; vice-president, exploration and production Jamaludin Khan; manager, health, safety and environment Shyam Dyal; chief security officer Cleve Richards and Gillette. No members of Cabinet were present at the media briefing.
Gillette said from December 17 to 29, there were 11 oil spills, four of which were related to Petrotrin’s refinery and exploration and production operations. Another four spills were traced to the Trinity Platform, and one to Neal & Massy Energy Services Ltd, both Petrotrin joint venture partners.
He said no source had been identified for the last two spills. He said evidence of sabotage was reported to the police and Petrotrin was doing joint patrols of the areas under watch with the Defence Force and the police and had since stepped up its security. Asked if the sabotage could be linked to the start of Petrotrin’s seismic surveys which fishermen have been protesting against, Khan said they did not know. He said the surveys began yesterday in the eastern fields.
Asked if it was an inside job because of the tools used, Gillette said they did not want to speculate, but said it was clear sabotage was behind two of the spills. “Investigations are continuing,” he said. However, there are no security cameras at these two wells. Gillette said investigations are also continuing into the other spills as well. Asked if it was indeed sabotage, what penalty the perpetrator would face if caught, Gillette said he did not know.
Told that environmentalist Stephen Broadbridge said such an act was akin to murder, Gillette replied, “You said it.” After the first five oil spills in the Gulf of Paria, which halted fishing and damaged the ecosystem, Petrotrin said it suspected sabotage. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar also said an investigation had been launched into possible sabotage of operations at the state-owned oil company.
“At the moment it would not be appropriate to blame anyone, but the nature of it seems to indicate that there may be some sabotage, and therefore that needs to be investigated before we can say anything further,” she had said.
Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union president Ancel Roget, in response, had said workers should not be held accountable, since Petrotrin had failed to protect its assets by reducing security. He said Petrotrin’s claim of suspected sabotage was an excuse and charged there was a massive cover-up by management to shield the lease operators.