Who is the Government Protecting?
Date: October 18th 2017
Four (4) days have passed since the Chaguaramas oil spill occurred (Saturday 14th October, 2017) with thick black oil spreading along the southern side of the entire north-western peninsula of Trinidad in the vicinity of Five Islands, Carrera Island, Constrat Island and Gasparee Island. There were no containment or clean-up efforts on the sea where the majority of the oil remains and will cause long term damage.
From the beginning Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) were informed by fisherfolk in the vicinity of the spill that it emanated from an oil rig that was recently anchored about one kilometer opposite Williams Bay. FFOS reported this to relevant officers of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) on Sunday.
This spill would appear to have occurred on Saturday night (14th October 2017) emanating from the ROWAN EXL II Rig, which is currently being serviced by Artemis Energy Limited of San Fernando (whose Chief Executive Officer is Mr. Nicholas Roger Mike). Our country should know that according to “Offshore Energy Today.com”, an online business guide, “the first extension for an additional well offshore Trinidad has been given to the 2010-built Rowan EXL II jack-up by BP Trinidad. The rig will be available in October 2017”. The possible source of the spill from the identified rig was yesterday confirmed by Minister Camille Robinson-Regis whose ministry has responsibility for the environment. However, the Hon. Minister has not yet confirmed who is using the nearby unnamed, unmanned, orphaned vessel just south of Gasparee Island as a marine dump for waste oil and it is alleged that the same now identified culprit may be involved.
The response to the Chaguaramas oil spill continues to raise serious questions as to the inability of our country (with over one hundred years’ experience in hydrocarbon extraction) to manage oil waste or to deal with oil spill disasters which, with our aging energy infrastructure is inevitable, has a higher probability of occurring, and in fact, has been occurring with increasing frequency and intensity in recent years.
Was the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) activated to deal with oil spills as required? The Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI) is mandated by the NOSCP to categorize the oil spill response capacity. Oil Spills are rated by a Tier differentiation, Tier 1, 2 or 3. Each Tier requires different levels of response. Has the MEEI rated this oil spill as yet and if not why not? This is significant in the public interest as it determines the seriousness and intensity of the response to the oil spill. The “Criteria for establishing the dimensions of minimum response capacity” states “the individual Emergency Plan can assume specific structures and strategies for each spill situation, in accordance with the accident scenarios established and their requirements”. If there is no categorization of the Tier then the Lead Agency(MEEI) as well as the Response Agency, (The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard) cannot respond appropriately especially since the required response capacity is different for each Tier level. Therefore, which “structure and strategy” has the MEEI assumed if the Honorable Minister Khan has not stated the Tier Level?
Why are the public and primary stakeholders being kept in the dark? Is the Government protecting someone?
The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) have stated that it has collected samples of the spilled oil and fingerprinted it but what are the results? Did these samples match the “fingerprinting database” which according to the Plan, “will be maintained by the IMA for centralized national archiving purposes and for making comparisons of oil for matching purposes and for purposes of identification of the Responsible Party and for possible prosecution”? Have the IMA fulfilled its legislated obligations under the Plan? If this IMA database was kept, the culprit would have immediately been known, and enforcement action would have already been initiated.
The EMA’s Emergency Hotline was not accessible from the morning of Sunday 15th October 6.00 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. What is the purpose of an Emergency Hotline if it cannot be accessed when there is an environmental emergency?
Section 3.7 of the NOSCP is specific. “All parties responsible for spilling oil of 1 gallon and more or if a visible sheen on water is created must report immediately such incidents to the EMA and to the MEEI (if the party is an oil, gas or petrochemical operator)”, and yet no report was made all day Sunday while the culprits knowingly stayed quiet. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) dictates a strict liability standard
for damage from oil spills and establishes criminal sanctions including mandatory incarceration for the irresponsible and negligent culprits. Will the Law be differently enforced for high profile and well networked companies?
Is this another BP Deepwater Horizon accident which according to the New Scientist Daily News (2010) was caused “the failure of eight different safety systems that were meant to prevent this kind of incident”? Did the safety systems on this BP/Rowan rig fail? Why is the CEO of BP (Trinidad and Tobago) still silent despite his interest in this 2010-built Rowan EXL II Oil Rig?