Gillette: Whole situation under control

By Kim Boodram

It’s “under control”.

This is the claim coming from Petrotrin yesterday on a series of oil spills that drenched Coffee Beach in La Brea two weeks ago and breached the coast in other areas of the southern peninsula.

Even as some residents on Coffee Beach complained up to yesterday that the oil slick in their front yards was still worrisome, Petrotrin chairman Lindsay Gillette said clean-up operations are close to finish and should be completed in two weeks.

“As of today, as a company, the whole situation is absolutely under control,” Gillette said at a news conference on the subject at Petrotrin’s quarters on the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.

Gillette said clean-up efforts should be “99.9 per cent complete” in two weeks’ time and added that the company’s main concern at this time was not just in tracing the source of the spills but in setting the community back on its feet.

While Petrotrin is reluctant to cry sabotage, as was claimed last week by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar during a visit to Coffee Beach, 11 spills in a fortnight, five of them involving fields run by the company’s partners, has led to a call for heightened security.

The last reported spill occurred in a Brighton field operated by Trinmar, a Petrotrin partner, on Sunday evening. The spill is not in a populated area and does not pose a threat, the company said.

Petrotrin CEO Khalid Hassanali said the company has in the past days engaged its own security and advised its partners to step up vigilance.

“It is highly unusual,” Hassanali said, of the sequence of spills, which have so far cost the company around $5 million in clean-up efforts.

Five of the 11 spills occurred in joint-venture fields operated by Trinmar and Neal and Massey Energy Resources Ltd (NMERL).

Hassanali said the company’s insurance adjusters were also in Trinidad to assess the situation.

In the company’s release on the chronology of events, starting with a spill on December 17 and the suspected source of La Brea’s current woes, a number of the spills occurred via equipment that did not  appear to be defective during prior routine operations.

Hassanali said nothing like the rapid series of spills has occurred within recent memory of anyone in the industry. The company was not willing to speculate on a possible motive in the event that the spills were as a result of  sabotage.

“Investigations are indeed happening,” Hassanali said, adding that the company was “in fact following certain leads”.

He said it would not be appropriate to go into further detail at this point but the situation was being taken very seriously.

On December 21, a spill at Rancho Quemado, Erin, occurred when two bull plugs, measuring three inches and requiring a particular wrench, were “discovered removed from two separate well site production tanks”.

Petrotrin’s health and safety manager, Shyam Dyal, said the clean-up company flown in from the US well remain in Trinidad for as long as needed. 

In La Brea, where residents were banned from the use of stoves and other devices powered by a large, naked flame, due to the high occurrence of gases in the atmosphere, Dyal said life should return to normal in two days, including clearance to the residents to fire up their stoves.

Dyal said all mop-up materials and chemicals being used were environmentally friendly and included peat moss for soaking up oil.

The exercises currently employed about 100 people from the various communities, with this number expected to double in the coming weeks.

Dyal said the impact of the spills on wildlife has far been minimal, with no reports of major fish-kills.

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