Problems run deeper than oil spills
However it is labelled, non-stop spills of crude oil and other hydrocarbons into the natural environment amount to an act of economic aggression against the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Until two Tuesdays ago, three days after the spill was discovered, the authorities had hesitated to characterise the simultaneous and mysterious oozings and gushings on land and on sea as the effect of sabotage. With the possibility of wrongdoing now openly entertained, police investigators have been called in. A sabotage determination, however, immediately raises questions as to who might be responsible, and whose interests might nefariously be served by unauthorised leakages from valves and seals long supposed secure.
Taking in front, the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) sought to deflect any finger-pointing in the direction of workers. Opportunistically, the union denounced Petrotrin’s security and staffing cutbacks and outsourcing. Yet, by raising those very grievances, the union’s leaders have provided a motive for such acts of sabotage, since Petrotrin will now be forced to hire more employees to more securely safeguard its assets. In making his rebuttal, OWTU president-general Ancel Roget neither admitted the possibility that any worker could be responsible nor offered any explanation as to why sabotage was impossible, asserting that “We do not concur with the company’s offering of the excuse that it is some kind of sabotage or otherwise. We want to say there is a massive cover-up of the Petrotrin management to shield their friends, the lease operators...”
So the OWTU has only left open the now burning whodunnit questions: who are the culprits and what is their aim? 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. However, even if Mr Roget is correct, the lease operators have nothing to gain from an oil spill and, even if the lack of security has facilitated thieves, the question remains as to who is buying stolen crude oil. One energy company noted that the valves of the pipelines could not have been unscrewed without special spanners, which means that only specific persons would have access to such tools. And, if an operation on the scale of stolen diesel fuel has been similarly happening with crude oil, then the challenge facing the authorities goes beyond the present oil spill.
T&T must hope that the security forces, with such foreign help as needed, will urgently track down and hold accountable those with means, motive and opportunity. The perpetrators qualify as economic and environmental enemies of the State and of national well-being, and must be treated accordingly.