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Panic in Penal over gas leak
Almost three months after Petrotrin’s major oil disaster in the Gulf of Paria, panic rose among Penal residents when a smell of natural gas filled the air as the company pumped water to its Pointe-a-Pierre refinery on Wednesday evening. With many of Gopee Trace’s residents afraid to sleep, some gathered near the 14-inch pipeline as the scent of the gas spread across the area. Many were left without dinner, as they were afraid to light their stoves. Although fire experts admitted that gas mixed with water was still flammable, Petrotrin’s head of corporate social responsibility George Commissiong insisted there was never any major threat to residents’ lives. Speaking at the valve installation yesterday, Commissiong said the gas line was being used to pump water from the Parry Lands Dam near Point Fortin to the refinery. He said although the line was converted to a water line eight months ago, there were pockets of residual gas still in it.
Speaking by phone, Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali explained that the process was to supplement the refinery due to the dry season. At around noon yesterday, EMA director Chaitram Hargobin said air-quality testing had shown zero pollution in the area. But some of the residents, led by community activist Edward Moodie, believe the threat was much more serious than Petrotrin claimed. Moodie said he wanted to take soil samples near the valve to Cariri for further testing. Speaking on Wednesday night, Moodie said: “I came home about 6.30 pm and I smelled this gas. It filled my house, so I told my wife and kids to leave. “I went to all the neighbours and I told them to leave the community because something was wrong. “When I drove up the road, I saw this gas line giving out all this vapour. “As it is now, all the neighbours, who haven’t left their homes, are uneasy. I told them to be careful and to remain awake. “I told then if they could not take the scent, because it is very upsetting, they should leave their homes. It is a hydrocarbon compound coming out here in vapour form and that is dangerous and upsetting.”
Around 11 pm, a Petrotrin crew arrived and turned off the valve. Apologising to residents yesterday, Commissiong said several changes were being implemented to avoid a recurrence. That included using the line during daylight hours only, examining the line for more leaks, installing a lock on the valve and replacing the fence and gate around the installation, he added. He said: “The particular line in question is a 14-inch pipeline that has been used to transport gas from Point Fortin to Point Lisas in the past. “For the past eight months or so, the line has been water-plugged, that is to say that it has been filled with water. A line that large, with a big enough diameter, there will be residual pockets of gas on it. “There was a leak on the valve last night, which was brought to our attention and our personnel responded. In fact, we had closed the valve and we shut down pumping.”
Communities need to be protected—MP
While meeting with residents and officials yesterday, MP for Oropouche West Stacy Roopnarine called on oil and gas companies to ensure the communities in which they operated were safeguarded. She also called on the EMA to ensure that such companies adhere to the environmental safety requirements.