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Former energy ministers confirm: Petrotrin knew about ageing infrastructure

Sunday, January 5, 2014
A blanket of oil covers a beach in the south-western peninsula. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH

Two former energy ministers have confirmed to the Sunday Guardian that state-owned energy company Petrotrin must have been aware of the condition of its ageing infrastructure. More questions have been raised about the integrity and maintenance of Petrotrin’s assets after a private, internal report was made public by the Guardian yesterday. 



The Sunday Guardian learned that former energy minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan called for an audit of the entire energy sector, and specifically Trinmar and Petrotrin, soon after taking office in 2010. Seepersad-Bachan, who was replaced by current Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine in a Cabinet reshuffle in 2011, yesterday confirmed that the audit triggered the Cabinet to develop the first oil spill response programme. A committee was also put together to evaluate both Trinmar’s and Petrotrin’s assets.



“The findings described the assets as ageing back then,” Seepersad-Bachan said in a telephone interview yesterday. She said the need to evaluate the local asset base came after the massive and damaging BP oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. That information was presented to the management at Petrotrin.



Risky business
Former energy minister under the People’s National Movement (PNM) Conrad Enill also confirmed the poor state of the infrastructure and pipelines at Petrotrin and said massive capital cost was needed to upgrade and replace those. He said that was one of the main reasons he did not pursue the exploration side of the sector and focused instead on refining. 



“It has always been on the decline and would have taken a massive injection of capital investment to bring the infrastructure up to date,” Enill said, in a telephone interview on Friday. In discussing the spill and both the company’s and Ramnarine’s subsequent response, Enill said this was the “exact reason” he did not push Petrotrin into oil. “There were two major risks, one being HSSE and the other involved the risk to people and the environment,” he said.


He said after the reality of the Petro Caribe initiative, T&T was not getting the same profit margins with the then existing plant configuration. “We needed to increase the capability of the refinery so that we could make more money from the same amount of product,” he said. He maintained that oil and exploration should always remain the remit of private companies and not state enterprises. “Petrotrin should have remained focused on optimising the refinery capability,” Enill said.



Trinity E&P: sabotage or being shielded?
While Seepersad-Bachan steered clear of the issue of sabotage, Enill said it was also a major concern under his tenure. “That was a issue and that has not changed,” he said. “But this Government came in with 28 seats—who does not like them enough to sabotage them? There are no major outstanding negotiations, no one is looking for leverage, so sabotage as a reason not making sense.”


The possibility of sabotage has been raised by Trinity Exploration and Production, Petrotrin’s joint venture partner, but was dismissed by Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union boss Ancel Roget. Roget, in an interview on Friday, questioned why Ramnarine continued to speak so highly of that one company despite the fact that at least two of the 11 spills were found to be originatiing from its local assets. The company claimed the spillage was the result of sabotage and not through any fault of Trinity's.


“Is he protecting them for a reason?” Roget asked.


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