Thursday, December 14, 2017

Waiting for oil spill facts

Express editorial logo312

Mark Fraser

Like so many other disturbing developments, the Petrotrin oil spill is proving to be yet another slippery disaster that could end up with the public holding the bag for losses running to several million dollars while no one is ever held accountable.

It remains an outrage that an incident of such magnitude could occur without any effort to initiate an independent probe into cause and impact.

Given the many conflicting details surrounding this disaster, it is of the utmost importance that the public interest be properly served by an expert and dispassionate inquiry mandated to uncover the facts and to evaluate the actions of Petrotrin and the response by the many state agencies involved, including the Ministry of Energy, the EMA, the ODPM and the Ministry of Health among others.

This is needed not only for establishing accountability and evaluating responses but also for ensuring that if another such disaster were to occur, we would be much better prepared than we were in this case.

Given its seriousness, we must not allow this oil spill disaster to degenerate into a tale of conflicting positions between Petrotrin and the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union until it peters out to a natural death. The people of Trinidad and Tobago need resolution on this matter which can only be achieved by a thorough understanding of exactly what happened.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this matter has been the suggestion that the oil spill is the result of degraded infrastructure. This position is held not only by the OWTU which has released confidential reports to support this position, but also by a former minister of energy, Conrad Enill. If this is indeed the case, we may be sitting on an oil time-bomb until corrective action is taken.

We repeat our position that without an independent probe by persons of established expertise and credibility, no one can be satisfied with the government’s response to the worst oil spill in our history.

In her limited response, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a team to investigate the environmental impact. The status of the team, as well as its members remain unknown. Here again, the public interest demands clarity. What is the timeline for delivery of this report and, once delivered, will the report be made public? The Minister of Energy also established a committee. Has it reported and, if so, will the report be made public?

Over and over, the public interest is short-changed by a lack of accountability and an absence of consequences. In handling this matter, the government must convince the public of its commitment to serving the public interest above all. Failure to respond promptly and appropriately to this oil spill will leave us exposed to the possibility of an even worse tragedy. It is therefore urgent that all parties be made to put aside their contentiousness within a framework that allows us to determine the truth and fix the problem, whatever it turns out to be.