When you live in an oil-producing country, with over four million barrels traversing the waters on a daily basis, oil spillage seems par for the course.
Last December , PowerGen's bunkered fuel tanker spilled out into Invaders Bay and left a slick that was almost two miles long.
The spill affected boats at the Port of Spain harbour and leaked into the drains near PowerGen's Wrightson Road location. As recent as June, NP took responsibility for the spillage of 1,500 gallons of diesel into the Guanapo River near the Water and Sewerage Authority's (WASA) Guanapo Water Treatment. WASA was forced to shut the plant down due to the incident.
When spilled into the ocean, oil can lead to the devastation of life under water. Many would remember the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989—its mass destruction poignantly illustrated by Reuters and AP photos of washed-up, oil-slicked dead birds and fish. There was also a reduction in population of ocean life and the pink salmon populations were stunted.
The DeepWater Horizon Spill of 2010, better known as the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was said to be 20 times worse than that of the Exxon Valdez with even more marine life lost.
Brothers John and Andrew Collier have seen first-hand the damage caused by oil spills locally and they are concerned about their effects on the environment.
"People are aware of the oil spills that occur in this country but they don't seem too interested about the effects these have on marine life and how it can affect us later on if these spills are not properly dealt with," said John Collier.
"You'd only find them responding if the oil spill is a major one; but even small spills do damage."
Two years ago, the brothers started Trinidad and Tank Fuel as a way of solving fuel issues in the marine sector. They partnered with Algae X International, a fuel-conditioning company in the United States, and together they provided fuel-polishing services for large tanks.
Through colleagues and clients mainly in the oil sector, the Collier brothers were made aware of some products used by oil workers in the field that were harmful to the skin, the health of users and environment.
"Some degreasing products caused skin to dry; others made it difficult to breathe when using," Andrew Collier said.
"We wanted to bring in products that were environmentally aligned, like our services, to clean tanks and spills."
In his search for eco-friendly degreasers, Andrew came upon De Oil it, a product made in the US that also eliminates oil spills. The product has been hailed by environmentalists as today's answer to the world's petroleum waste problems. Trinidad Tank and Fuel Ltd is its sole distributor in this country. "If you've ever seen an oil spill in water you'd notice that when it is treated, the spill just moves around in the water," John said.
"When it disappears from the surface, what happens to it? What happens to the marine life or the trees that grow on the land when the spill washes up in drains on the beaches?"
In both the Exxon and BP oil spills, the dispersant Corexit was used to eliminate the spill. The product, when deployed on spilled oil, "is broken up into tiny bio-degradable droplets that immediately sink below the surface where they continue to disperse and bio-degrade", according to the website of the Corexit's manufacturer's Nalco.
Corexit's dangerous effects on humans and wildlife have been well documented.
Gulf toxicologist Dr Susan Shaw, also the founder and
director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, told CNN back in 2010 that shrimpers, after casting their nets into water treated by Corexit, experienced "headaches that lasted three weeks, heart palpitations, muscle spasms and bleeding from the rectum".
Dr Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist and toxicologist, also out of the US, tested the effect of the chemical on fish and found that Corexit disrupted cell membranes.
His research found that the fish that were alive 96 hours after exposure (96 hours being the US Environmental Protection Agency's time frame for ensuring the product was harmless to marine life) were dead two weeks later.
"In their many forms, petroleum waste kills the earth's natural bacteria, which slows down the natural breakdown process for decades. When applied to grease, fuel, and oil spills, our product has the ability to disarm these toxic molecules and they are no longer bio-available," John said.
He insisted that "after using De Oil It , all that's left is air, water and carbon—dirt—which can then be safely returned back to the eco-system. Our product does not pose a threat to water column, plants, or marine life and is non-toxic and completely biodegradable".
The Colliers demonstrated to the Express how De Oil It works, using crude oil they poured into a clear dish. When the product was sprayed onto the oil, it immediately separated into smaller blobs.
Within minutes, the thick, sticky and pungent oil started to look more like dirt in water. To the touch, the oil was grainy and the smell was also notably less offensive.
John believes Trinidad Tank and Fuel is ahead of the times in terms of the company's use of eco-friendly products and wants those in the local oil industries and marine sector to start thinking along the same lines when choosing products. The brothers also want members of the public to change their mindset and start embracing green living, for the sake of the next generation.
"We do things without even thinking about the environmental impact it may have," John said.
"Cleaning the engine with kerosene is something that most people do because it is cheaper and they are accustomed to doing it. But look at the black smoke that emits from the exhaust pipe after the process and tell me what that does to the environment.
"We need to stop thinking about the here-and-now and instead think about what kind of world our children would inherit. In small ways we can make a difference."