‘cover-up’: Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president-general Ancel Roget, centre, addresses members of the media during a press conference at OWTU’s headquarters in San Fernando yesterday. —Photo: DAVE PERSAD

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OWTU: No sabotage, Petrotrin must take blame

By Carolyn Kissoon carolyn.kissoon@trinidadexpress.com

State-owned oil company Petrotrin needs to take responsibility for the series of oil spills occurring at its marine and onland operations, including La Brea, Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget said yesterday.
Roget said workers would not be held accountable, as the company failed to protect its multi-billion dollar assets by reducing security throughout the fields, both offshore and onland operations.
He was speaking at a media conference at OWTU headquarters, Paramount Building, San Fernando.
“We do not concur with the company’s offering of the excuse that it is some kind of sabotage or otherwise. We want to say there is a massive cover-up of the Petrotrin management to shield their friends, the lease operators, who they invited to and in fact gave away some of the lucrative acreage of Petrotrin assets and therefore a cloud of silence and secrecy that has shrouded the lease operators in the La Brea situation,” he said.
Roget accused the company of knowingly reducing the level of security in the fields, allowing thieves to roam freely.
Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali announced on Saturday that one of the company’s lease operators, Trinity Oil and Gas, discovered several valves open at its operations in Rancho Quemado, allowing oil to flow out of the tanks onto the land.
It was the fifth oil spill in South Trinidad since Tuesday.
The most severe case, however, occurred at La Brea, where the coastline was stained with thick, black oil.
Petrotrin said the source of that spill was undetermined.
Hassanali said the oil spills at Pointe-a-Pierre, Riser Platform 5 and Platform 17 in Trinmar and at Rancho Quemado were contained.
But Roget was not satisfied with the company’s response to the oil spills. He said Petrotrin’s management was aware that the company was short by 273 security guards, with 70 vacancies for security officers in Trinmar.
“The reduction and removal of morning tower shifts...these shifts provided as a monitoring effort and additional security effort so that if there are any oil spills throughout fields they were reported in real time. But such shifts were removed with these efforts to reduce the level of manning for those facilities and so on. And then treatment to fenceline community, the fisherfolk, was totally inadequate with the state-owned company. They also served as a watchful eye to ensure that if these incidents occur they are immediately reported,” he said.
Roget said the fields were open to bandits, with no security guards or proper measures to protect the equipment.
“Where they saw a valve open, Petrotrin has to take responsibility for that because they reduced all security arrangements throughout the fields so people can enter an oilfield. There are large gaps and holes in fences and lowest level of security arrangements. At some gates where one person was usually manning, you have nobody manning in the field and what do you expect?”
And in the case of La Brea, where some 15 families living on the coastline were affected, Roget said the oil company cannot escape liability.
He said the trade union had warned the company about the dangers of leasing out fields to privately-owned companies.
“They will not escape liability because they are owners of the estate. They have entered into an arrangement with lease operators--Petrotrin has overall responsibility. They should not have entered into those arrangements and should take control of all assets and ensure oil is produced at a proper environmental and safety standard and not exploiting workers.”
Roget said the union reported that equipment, including pumping jacks, and electrical cable were being stolen from fields not being monitored.
He called on the company to explain why the two lease operators responsible for the fields near La Brea remain silent.
“We are saying they must not escape scrutiny and monitoring and thorough investigation to determine whether they are culpable in this regard also. It is all about Petrotrin entering into this arrangement which leaves the environment at risk, safety at risk and proper health standards at risk. We condemn the company giving away its lucrative fields to lease operators and contractors. This union has condemned the level of poor health and safety standards at the level of lease operators.”
Roget said, while the union was never an advocate for the return of multinational Texaco, the international company would have ensured that all assets were protected by the highest level of security.
He said the management of Petrotrin was inadequate and accused them of allowing political interference in the refinery’s operations.
Roget said Petrotrin had no emergency response contract to deal with the latest series of oil spills.
“They violate their own investigation policy which states that investigations of that nature ought to take place within the first 24 hours. Here, some five days later, they are coming with that,” he said.
And he accused the company of failing to pay residents employed in the clean-up exercises the rates outlined in the collective agreement.
“And the workers quite correctly are recognising that and they withheld their labour from yesterday (Saturday) to today (Sunday). That is valuable time would have been lost simply because the company refused to, in their engagement of those workers, refuse to pay them the proper rates.”
Roget insisted that Petrotrin review its arrangement with lease operators.
“Those unregulated, unsupervised arrangements, where those lease operators are allowed to do what they please, violating every health and safety standard,” he said.
Roget described the oil spills as the worst in recent times.
“The oil has to come from somewhere. It has damaged the entire coastline of south-western peninsula and is approaching Cedros,” he said.
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