Sunday, February 18, 2018

Time to take action

Express editorial logo463

Mark Fraser

It is rather disingenuous, 14 years after the fact, for Petrotrin to be complaining about the construction quality of the bund wall which failed to contain the oil seepage that caused an oil spill in Marabella last week.

For Petrotrin’s two top men, chairman Lindsay Gillette and president Khalid Hassanali, to say that the wall, built in 2000, was not done in accordance with proper regulations or constructed according to drawings, is to admit to a dangerous absence of quality control management at the company and in the monitoring and inspection of plant and equipment.

Mr Gillette’s own admission of a breakdown of the inspection regime at the leaking tank is indicative of a serious management failure at Petrotrin. Once again, as in the case of last December’s historic oil spill at La Brea, the public is left to wonder about the quality of the executive management and board oversight at Petrotrin.

The problems that have been surfacing at Petrotrin are no ordinary ones that affect only the financial bottom line. They affect the health and livelihood of employees and entire communities of people living within the radii of Petrotrin’s extensive operations. As in the case of La Brea, this newspaper believes that the current internal investigation will not suffice. This situation warrants a thorough independent investigation in which the actions of all, including the board and executive management, are probed in order to determine the full extent of deficiency and culpability as part of the process for ending operational mishaps.

The company’s own admissions about equipment and structural defects would appear to give credence to the many alarms raised by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) regarding the state of Petrotrin’s infrastructure and the implications for the company’s viability and workers and community safety.

Since last week’s oil spill, a new and worrying dimension has been added to the situation with the OWTU hinting that it might follow the example of the Public Services Association in taking worker action on the basis of health and safety issues in the workplace.

In light of this, we expect Petrotrin’s management to move swiftly to pre-empt any such action by ensuring that the State enterprise is in full compliance with health and safety requirements.

This newspaper remains firm in its position that it was a grave error on the part of the Government to have resisted the call for an independent investigation into the La Brea oil spill. It was a lost opportunity for getting to the bottom of the problem, for establishing the precise state of Petrotrin’s infrastructure, for identifying management and operational weaknesses, and for taking corrective action to prevent future problems.

As happened in December, the Government once again seems blind to the urgent need for an independent investigation. Given the fact of two major oil spills in the short space of seven months, this failure could opens the Government to the charge of irresponsibility.