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Roget on latest oil spill: It’s a disaster in the making

Published: 
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Petrotrin workers pump oil out of the Guaracara River, Pointe-a-Pierre, yesterday during mop-up operations after one of Petrotrin’s tanks at the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery sprung a leak. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH

The latest oil spill from the tanks of state-owned oil company  Petrotrin has been labelled a disaster in the making by president general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union Ancel Roget. Speaking to the media at the site of clean-up efforts in the Guaracara River, Pointe-a-Pierre ,yesterday, Roget said mismanagement by Petrotrin was the root cause of the problem. A release from the company said the tank, containing an oil and gas mixture, was discovered to be leaking around 12.45 pm on Monday afternoon. Roget said: “This major oil spill is another disaster in the making that could have been avoided. We are in this situation again because of the  poor management and poor maintenance programmes.”

He slammed Petrotrin for not learning from its past mistakes and thereby enabling this type of situation to recur. “Coming out of the oil spill on December 17,” he said,  “one would have expected the management of Petrotrin to be proactive and to have put in place proper pipeline and integrity programmes to ensure something like this does not occur again but like many state enterprises, they are a law unto themselves.”

He said the company management was not concerned about the health and safety of the general public.“They do as they please to satisfy the board and to hell with everybody else, in so far as initiating proper tank integrity programmes to ensure the tanks which hold all of those solutions —whether it is slops or oil or gas or kerosene — to ensure they are fully contained. That is not occurring,” he added. He said workers were being put in danger as several of them were made to enter the river on Monday evening in a kayak to try to put booms in place to contain the oil, which, he said, was contrary to the company’s own emergency response plan. “It was not until late in the afternoon they would have had workers endangering their lives on the river with a kayak, trying to deploy booms, when that is not contained anywhere in the emergency procedure.

Roget said the OWTU had reports that a significant amount of oil and gas slop was released into the river as a result of the leak. “According to our reports, some 17,300 barrels of slops was released into the environment that found its way into the Guaracara River but that is not what Petrotrin is saying,” he said. Roget also condemned the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and the Occupational Healthy and Safety (OSH) Authority for their lack of response to the spill. “The regulatory agencies — the EMA and the OSH Authority — for yet another time have failed to act. They have failed to ask Petrotrin the right questions and demand answers from Petrotrin and to evacuate and protect the lives of residents and the lives of workers.”

He slammed Petrotrin for feeding inaccurate information to the media about the leak, saying there was nothing further from the truth than its press releases. “As you see, some 24 hours later they are still trying to contain and do recovery efforts on the river when they tried to make the public believe the spill was minor and it was contained,” he added. 

Residents Suffering
Isaac Rampaul and his wife, Susan, both 68, have lived on the edge of the Guaracara River for the past 20 years. While they both say they have grown accustomed to a constant faint smell of oil  from the river, they say this is the worst they have ever experienced. “My wife suffers with her heart,” said Rampaul. “She had to visit the doctor this morning because the stench was just too strong.” Rampaul said Petrotrin staff visited him around 9 am, bringing sandwiches and warning the family not to light their stove. Susan said she was so afraid for her life she has already packed all her documents together. “I have everything in one bag. We just waiting on an evacuation notice to grab everything and run,” she said. 

Another elderly resident, Dandayea Narine, 78, said her grandsons had been constantly complaining that the smell was burning their noses. Her daughter, Carmen Narine, who is asthmatic, said she had been having difficulty breathing since the spill. “Since yesterday (Monday) I have to sit down in front the fan all the time,” she said, “or I could hardly catch breath.” Pregnant mother Dianne Mitchell, who also lives along the bank of the river, says her main concern is whether the fumes and stench will harm her unborn child.  Mitchell said she had not been visited by any Petrotrin officials and was still unsure of the exact nature of the situation.

Businesses affected
Businesses in Tropical Plaza, Pointe-a-Pierre, closed their doors yesterday morning because of the fumes from the latest Petrotrin oil spill from the MP6 Tank in the North Area of the Pointe-a-Pierre Refinery. The businesses, including Royal Bank, Republic Bank, Unit Trust Corporation and the Fitness Centre, put signs on their doors saying they would be closed until further notice. 
One businessman from the area, Nigel Williams, complained about the  lack of information from Petrotrin, saying despite having to close his business twice because of the stench, he was yet to be informed of the cause. “I am still trying to find out what is going on. Nobody has said anything to us. People started leaving my business on Monday night because of the smell and today people came in but they left immediately,” he said. Williams expressed disappointment in the company. “Everyone I ask is sending me to someone else,” he said, gesturing to the workers on the site. “Nobody here knows anything.

Petrotrin: Clean-up in progress
In a release, Petrotrin said at the “peak of recovery operations” at the Guaracara River yesterday, 14 skimmers and pumps were deployed and employees of the refining, marketing, exploration and production operations, security, fire, HSE, medical and corporate communications departments were in the field in affected areas. The release said clean-up efforts would continue throughout the night.