Sunday, December 17, 2017

Calling Petrotrin to account

Express editorial logo370

Mark Fraser

 It now appears that the management of State-owned Petrotrin deliberately misled the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago with respect to last December’s oil spills whose effects, three months later, are still being felt. 

“Not true” was the theme running through an investigative report in Monday’s Express, with respect to various official statements and explanations proffered by Petrotrin spokesmen, starting with the accusation of sabotage.

When the first spills were detected, Petrotrin’s management after a few days hinted that its pipelines had been tampered with by persons unknown. The Oilfields Workers Trade Union, into whose garden that allegation fell, immediately denied any culpability, with union’s president-general Ancel Roget claiming instead that there was “massive cover-up by the Petrotrin management to shield their friends, the lease operators...” Since that allegation made little sense, however, Mr Roget’s statement only heightened public suspicions.

The Express report, however, shows that Roget’s allegation was partly true, except that the cover-up was intended to shield Petrotrin’s management. The company’s internal records show that crucial inspections were postponed or improperly done; that maintenance was not carried out in a thorough or timely manner; and that the company failed to meet American Petroleum Institute (API) standards.

To add deception to incompetence, Petrotrin’s management published statements which they knew to be misleading. For example, in media briefings and in full-page advertisements, Petrotrin chairman Lindsay Gillette and Chief Executive Officer Khalid Hassanali asserted that the company had “completed several inspections” between 2006 and 2011 on a sea-line. But Petrotrin’s own internal investigation report into the December 17 spill found only three reports on that particular pipeline. Similar shading of facts was displayed in claims that this pipeline only required inspection every 10 years, even though that standard applies to new and rehabilitated pipelines, whereas this particular line was over 40 years old and known to be badly corroded.

It therefore seems that the several oil spills, which created an impression of sabotage, could well trace back to lack of proper maintenance of key infrastructure, producing what was really one massive spill – and the worst environmental disaster in this country’s 148  years of oil production.

For that alone, Petrotrin’s top managers should already have offered their resignations to Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine. In our editorial last year on this issue, we asserted that, “If blame were eventually to be attached to mismanagement of the State-owned company, this would  constitute negligence requiring, if not criminal prosecution, immediate dismissal of all managers and workers with direct responsibility for maintenance of the relevant equipment.”

These new revelations, once confirmed to the minister’s satisfaction, make it mandatory that he replace all those executives whose mismanagement helped spur this  calamitous train of events.