offering support: Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley speaks with Opposition MP for La Brea Fitzgerald Jeffrey, centre, and residents of Coffee Beach, La Brea during his visit yesterday as the oil spill clean-up continues. —Photo: JUHEL BROWNE

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Energy Minister: Clean-up will be expensive

By Carla Bridglal carla.bridglal@trinidadexpress.com

Estimates of the cost for recovery and rehabilitation of the recent oil spill that affected the south-western peninsula have not yet been assessed, but Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali said yesterday his guess is that cost to the state oil company could be several million dollars.
“It’s one of the most expensive and most uncanny (spills) we have ever had...A rough estimate so far—and this is just a guess—would be between $6m and $10m”, Hassanali told the Express yesterday in a brief telephone interview.
He said the net oil recovered in clean-up operations was 500 to 600 barrels.
Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine, in an earlier interview with the Express yesterday, had said investigations into to potential sabotage causing the spill, especially in Rancho Quemado, was still inconclusive.
Ramnarine, while he did not want to give a figure, acknowledged the clean-up will be expensive.
“It will not be cheap. (The company) had to fly in two (Boeing 767 aircraft); four international experts; and provided a lot of support to people for medical expenses, meals and compensation. It will be expensive but it is necessary to remember Petrotrin belongs to the people, and a healthy Petrotrin is necessary for a healthy Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Hassanali, however, said the Rancho Quemado spill was “kind of obvious”.
“There have been other circumstances... nine spills in the last few days. I have never experienced this before in my whole career,” Hassanali said.
Clean-up operations are still ongoing, but Hassanali said the beaches around La Brea were “satisfactorily clean”. He added that around the villages, the smell was almost gone, and the whole clean-up process should take maybe five more days.
Hassanali said, despite criticisms that Petrotrin did not seem to have the situation under control, the company did have the training and capacity to handle such a disaster.
“We have the capacity; just as a precaution, because villages and people (were affected), we brought in four experts, two from Miami and two from the UK, and to quote them, they said they were quite satisfied that before they got here we had embarked on a proper strategy for clean-up,” Hassanali said.
Ramnarine said the spill was not as bad as the media was making it out to be.
“As minister I am very happy with progress being made by Petrotrin and the (consultants). They have conducted aerial, marine and land surveys, and continue to express satisfaction to Petrotrin’s approach to rehabilitation and recovery,” he said.
Ramnarine said he had yesterday received the most recent preliminary report from the company on the state of the clean-up:
Station Beach: 99 per cent completed
Coffee Beach: 85 per cent
Carat Shed Beach: 85 per cent
Pt Coco: Completed
John Williams Beach Front: Completed
Unity: 90 per cent
Granville: Completed
“By and large (the recovery) is going in the direction we want it to go in. No new oil has been coming on to the land up to four days ago, so the worse is behind us,” Ramnarine said.
Oil spills will happen in any country oil is produced, Ramnarine said; what is important is preparation.
“What is fortuitous is that three months ago we completed a national oil spill contingency plan. The previous plan was from the 1970s; so in the exercise of drawing up this plan we would have incorporated input from all the necessary agencies, including defences services and (other energy companies). These aircraft have also brought equipment. I have asked Petrotrin chairman Lindsay Gillette and (Hassanali) to examine what was brought and see what we can keep for future oil spills so we won’t need to fly it in,” he said.
He was also not concerned about any negative impact the spill will have on the international reputation of Trinidad and Tobago to handle oil spills.
“The country is well known as a very safe and secure place to do business. This (incident) will cause us to grow. We will apply the lessons learned from this. We are looking at the continued upgrade of Trinmar because Trinmar was allowed to run down from 2002-2010 and only recently have upgrades begun. We have to invest heavily in upgrading pipelines and infrastructure. That is important. I don’t think it will affect our international image,” he said.
He added that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Cabinet have expressed “deep concern” for the security of the energy sector and the Security Council will meet today to discuss with Petrotrin what security arrangements the company has considered and applied. National Security Minister Gary Griffith, he said, has also received a mandate from the Prime Minister to report on the security arrangements for the energy sector.
A committee appointed by Cabinet on Thursday to review the oil spill will meet in the new year, Ramnarine said.
“One thing we have to look at is the protection of our oil and natural gas infrastructure; Petrotrin is vital to the country’s economic interest,” Ramnarine said.
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