Thursday, February 22, 2018

‘Minister, board must go’


‘Population misled’: Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, right, receives a report titled “Petrotrin Oil Spill Cover Up” from Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union president-general Ancel Roget following a news conference yesterday at the Office of the Opposition Leader at Charles Street, Port of Spain. —Photo: MICHEAL BRUCE

Mark Fraser

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday called for the dismissal of Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs Kevin Ramnarine in the wake of last month’s oil spills. Rowley and the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), in separate news conferences, also called for the removal of the Petrotrin board.

An Opposition team led by Rowley met with a team from the OWTU yesterday at Rowley’s Charles Street, Port of Spain, office. Rowley said the Opposition team was presented with documentation which confirmed “our worst fears” with respect to the oil spill at Petrotrin, a spill which damaged parts of the southern Gulf of Paria and the south-west peninsula.

“The Opposition is now satisfied that there is serious negligence and the creation of serious liability of the State and that there is a major cover-up at Petrotrin carried out by the board, the management and the Cabinet. On that basis, we are immediately calling for the dismissal of the Minister of Energy and for an independent enquiry so that persons at Petrotrin, including the board, would be held accountable for what happened on December 17,” Rowley stated.

“It is a serious matter. And the population has been misled, misinformed and being led down a garden path by persons who should be held accountable,” Rowley stated.

Said Rowley: “The OWTU was able to present to the Opposition a series of documents which contradict a lot of what has been said to the national population by Petrotrin, the board of Petrotrin and the Minister of Energy. As a matter of fact, the clearest documentation we had this morning is one that shows that early in the wee hours of the morning of December 17, Petrotrin became aware of circumstances which could have been leading to an oil spill. And by 6 a.m. the report showed that Petrotrin received confirmation that oil had leaked into the Gulf of Paria. And by 8 o’clock that morning Petrotrin had received certification which confirmed that a significant known quantity of oil had leaked into the Gulf of Paria. And these are Petrotrin documents produced by Petrotrin’s own staff,” he said.

Rowley said Petrotrin knew the fuel had escaped during operations in a line that it had under “intensive care”.

“Petrotrin had information that what was being pumped was not reaching the location at the end of the line. They know the fuel was not reaching the barge and that it was going somewhere, and that was the Gulf of Paria. One of the documents—preliminary investigative report by Petrotrin—noted that between 3 a.m. and 4.30 a.m. of December 17, complaints were made to Port Operation with respect to the low loading rate being experienced following the loading of a Tank via Sealine 10 and 40.

“The specialist report showed that the particular line was an emerging situation requiring immediate action, requiring an inspection in 2011 that did not take place,” he said, adding that it showed the extent to which the State agencies, the minister and the Cabinet were accountable for the spill.

Rowley said it was against this background the population must judge Petrotrin’s statements that it did not to know the source of the problem and its invocation of “sabo­tage on the part of others... the documentation does not support that”.

Rowley then asked why the Prime Minister would not want to meet with the OWTU to receive these documents, and answered: “Because they (the Government) are all engaged in a cover-up.”

Rowley again rejected the Government-appointed Task Force to investigate the matter with limited terms of reference. Those terms of reference included, he said, that the “independent legal authority in treating with this matter”—the Environmental Management Authority—is to take guidance from the Cabinet. He said this suggested the deepening of the cover-up.

Rowley said the Opposition would pass on the documentation to the lawyers who are looking after the interest of the people in the south-west peninsula (“who have been wronged”) “so that they can seek to take a class action against Petrotrin and all persons who crea­ted liabilities for them”.

Among the documents contained in the Petrotrin Oil Spill Cover Up are the Inspection Reports of 2007 and October 2010 which pointed to certain difficulties such as corrosion and perforation with the sealines.