Days after protesters from oil spill-affected areas in La Brea held up placards outside Parliament, a new surge of dead fish has washed ashore, confirming the distressing reality of unfinished clean-up business. Clearly, Petrotrin’s removal of oil from the water, seashore and parts of the mangrove does not close the file on this oil-spill disaster.
Although it has been compensating fisherfolk, who since December have been unable to ply their trade, new mystery kills of formerly marketable salmon and mullet have brought to life the worst fears of this fishing community which, from the beginning, has expressed concern about the impact of the oil spill on its future livelihood.
Many more questions continue to linger which is why, from the beginning, this newspaper has called for a full and independent investigation into the entire incident, including the response by the regulatory authorities.
It does not help that there has been no report to the public on the findings of the two committees established by the Minister of Energy and the Prime Minister.
This latest fish kill also raises questions related to the oil dispersants used in the clean-up process. Of relevance here would be the result of tests conducted by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) during the clean-up phase. What were those findings and do they shed any light on the latest sightings of dead fish?
In the heat of the disaster, the EMA levied a fine of $20 million on Petrotrin. Is that the full extent of the penalty on the State oil company, or is further action being pursued?
The biggest question of all involves the future of Petrotrin itself. In the midst of the disaster, major questions were raised about the company’s ageing infrastructure and the huge investment required to deal with the ongoing problem of leaks. This is not a problem that can be allowed to continue without courting significant risk and high costs.
Recent gas leaks in South Trinidad would have done nothing to bolster public confidence in Petrotrin’s assurances of the problem being under control.
Given that the impact of oil spills could linger on long after the deed is done, it is of utmost importance that the various monitoring agencies continue to keep a close eye on human and environmental developments in the La Brea area. As the largest oil spill in the country’s history, this disaster has taken T&T into uncharted territory that needs to be documented, analysed and understood in order that the lessons and knowledge be incorporated into policy.
This newspaper has repeatedly expressed its concern about the Energy Ministry’s handling of this disaster and the effectiveness of its responses as the industry regulator. We have not been convinced it maintained the necessary arm’s-length distance from the State company to be able to act in the public interest. Three months after the oil spill is a good enough time for the ministry to take the public into its confidence by making a clear and comprehensive statement on all the dimensions of this tragedy.