Monday, December 18, 2017

EMA fines Petrotrin $20 million


Mark Fraser

Petrotrin has been fined a whopping $20 million by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).

The EMA imposed the fine on the State-owned energy company — the largest fine from the Authority so far — over a series of oil spills for which Petrotrin is being held responsible.

Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali last night described the EMA’s action as “harsh”.

Contacted for a response to the EMA’s action, Hassanali said, “Having regard to the quick response that Petrotrin undertook and the care for the persons and environment, I think the measures taken by the EMA were rather harsh.”

EMA chief executive officer Dr Allan Bachan yesterday announced that the fine would go towards rehabilitation of areas affected by the spills and also towards consistent testing of various aspects of the environment, including air and water quality.

The announcement was made at a press conference at the EMA’s Elizabeth Street, Port of Spain office, to address the Authority’s action in the wake of 11 spills of varying degrees, the first of which occurred on December 17, 2013 at Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre jetty.

Answering questions from the media after announcing the fine, Bachan said it was not the concern of the EMA to ascertain whether the spills were as a result of sabotage, as the company has claimed, nor would the fact of sabotage, should that be found to be the cause, change the company’s culpability in the matter.

Bachan said the company failed to monitor its assets, which could under the circumstances include adequate security presence that could have prevented the spills.

Two Notices of the Violations were served on Petrotrin last Friday for four breaches of the EM Act and Bachan said while the Authority has been criticised for its apparent failure to become involved following the spills, it must be guided by the legislation available.

“This is unprecedented,” Bachan said.

“We are seeing environmental issues cropping up now that are not considered in the Act.”

Bachan acknowledged that the Act is somewhat outdated and said the board of the EMA has since last year begun reviewing the legislation with a view to modernising it.

The EMA was yesterday unwilling to commit to any statements on whether the spill that has affected residents of Coffee Beach in La Brea will have long-term effects.

“That will be part of the process from this point forward, there will be monitoring and testing,” Bachan said.

EMA director Dr Rai Ragbir, who also attended yesterday’s press conference, said the EMA has so far conducted at least one clinic where the results did not show any cause for long-term concern.

Ragbir said workers in the oil and gas industry are exposed to similar conditions every day.

The EMA will, however, continue to host medical clinics and make recommendations to the relevant authorities based on those results.

Bachan said it would be premature at this time to speculate on whether Petrotrin can expect further fines as investigations go on. 

“It was important to make this step and to begin rehabilitation and remedial action,” Bachan said.

Excerpt of the EMA press release:

Since the initial reporting of the oil spills the EMA’s Compliance and Enforcement team has sustained a presence on the affected sites, with frequent aerial and ground surveys, interviews with relevant personnel, and meticulous reviewing of certificates of Environmental Clearance relating to this incident. 

It is based on these internal investigations, coupled with findings contained in the preliminary report by the Institute of Marine Affairs, that the EMA identified Petrotrin as the violator and initiated legal proceedings by serving two Notices of Violation (NOVs): NOV 2004/2014 and NOV 2005/2014 on Friday January 3, 2014, with respect to several breaches of the EM Act. These breaches include: 

1. The failure of Petrotrin to submit for approval the required methods for the disposal and treatment of waste generated from the aforementioned oil spills. 

2. The failure of Petrotrin to report all accidents, emergencies and spills within the stipulated time frame. 

3. The failure of Petrotrin to comply with health and air-monitoring requirements 

4. The failure of Petrotrin to submit a complete written report of the incident 

Petrotrin, in response to the EMA’s action, made representations to the EMA and admitted to the violations articulated in the respective NOVs. A Consent Agreement was entered into in which Petrotrin was fined a sum of TT$20 million. The monies would be used towards the assessment, remediation and rehabilitation of the impacted sites inclusive of but not limited to the following activities: 

1. Determination of sources of the oil spills into the Gulf of Paria.

2. Monitoring work carried out by government departments and other public bodies to assess the environmental impact of the Petrotrin oil spill and the subsequent clean-up activities.

3. Establishment of Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment team to undertake reconnaissance surveys of damaged resources and select study sites for damage assessment.

4. Assessment of the fate and behaviour of the oil, and the effectiveness of the clean-up.

5. Identification of sampling and monitoring priorities for evaluating impacts of the spill.

6. Determination of which detailed studies to undertake. Document assessment process – reasons for decisions on priorities and strategies.

7. The initiating and coordination of studies to ensure that a comprehensive set of monitoring data on environmental distributions and impacts is obtained.

8. Determination through these studies and assessment programmes the overall impact of the incident on environmental resources of the area affected (these resources to include but not limited to fisheries, invertebrate resources, benthic ecology and wetlands) and to assess the subsequent recovery of these resources. The assessment will also include discussion of fate and effects of unrecovered oil left to biodegrade and weather in the natural environments. Information on the distribution of pollutants relevant to human health will be passed to public health authorities for assessment.

9. Assessment of the capabilities and constraints for minimising environmental resource impacts and enhancing recovery and identify appropriate mitigation measures.  

10. Development of a long term Remediation and Rehabilitation Action Plan to address the environmental impacts and initiate monitoring and studies of the effects of the oil spill on the environment.

11. Monitoring and evaluation of the Remediation and Rehabilitation Action Plan to determine its effectiveness.

12. Development of an Environmental Impact Mitigation and Assessment Response Framework.