Sleeping soundly: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar cuddles three-month -old Alice Mathure who fell asleep in her arms during the Prime Minister’s annual constituency Christmas gift giving at Penal Rock Road yesterday.

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Petrotrin probes oil spill ‘sabotage’

By By Carolyn Kissoon

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has confirmed that an investigation has been launched into possible sabotage of operations at State-owned oil company Petrotrin.

Persad-Bissessar was responding to reports of another oil spill—this time at the company’s inland oil exploration operations at Rancho Quemado yesterday.

It was the fifth oil spill in South Trinidad since Tuesday.

She was speaking to reporters during a toy drive in Penal.

“Minister (of Energy) Kevin Ramnarine spoke with me this morning. He advised that Petrotrin is investigating a possible sabotage. At the moment it would not be appropriate to blame anyone but the nature of it seems to indicate that there may be some sabotage and therefore that needs to be investigated before we can say anything further,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said the government was also dealing with the issue of scrap iron and illegal bunkering. 

Her statement came moments after Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali announced that one of the company’s lease operators, Trinity Oil, discovered several valves opened overnight, allowing oil to flow out of the tanks on land.

“(Friday) night in our land operations in Rancho Quemado, one of our lease operators, Trinity Oil, discovered a number of valves opened overnight allowing oil to flow out of the tanks. The oil spilled out into the land. They do morning checks of wells. And this morning check, to their horror, there was oil all over the place and upon further investigation it was discovered that a number of the valves attached to the tanks were opened,” he said.

Hassanali said it was not normal for oil to be flowing out of tanks. 

“But it is a fact it has happened. The clean-up will take days and especially if that oil gets into water courses. Crude oil floats, hydrocarbon floats on water and therefore the consequences to persons, communities and wildlife can be disastrous,” he said.

Preliminary investigations found the amount of oil spilled onto the land was approximately 80 to 100 barrels.

“This is of concern because the other spills have been marine. It is extremely disturbing because (oil spills) affect people and the one this morning is another one of grave concern. The valves were found opened which doesn’t normally happen, all these things happened altogether,” he said.

Hassanali was speaking at a media conference to give an update on the recent oil spills at Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.

Company chairman Lindsay Gillette, Shyam Dial, manager Health, Safety and the Environment (HSE) and other members of the board of directors were present.

Hassanali said the company was concerned about the number of incidents which have occurred in recent days. 

Asked whether the company was investigating a case of sabotage in the onland oil spill, Hassanali said: “To reach that conclusion one needs to go through a process of investigation. It’s early...we can’t reach that conclusion without being fair and without investigating fully.”

Hassanali admitted, however, that pipelines were removed for scrap iron in several areas in Point Fortin recently. 

“I presume that was seen as scrap iron. This is a company with 100 years of operations and even 100 years in refinery, so there are installations around the country and some may still contain hydrocarbons,” he said.

Hassanali issued a warning that hydrocarbons can be hazardous to health. 

He said the company operated along most of the southern parts of Trinidad and in marine areas in the Gulf of Paria. 

“We have 300 structures in the sea in the Gulf of Paria and surveillance for all of that is rather difficult. But we are putting into place increased efforts and other systems are likely to be engaged to assist us,” he said.

Hassanali said there was no evidence to indicate that the oil spill at La Brea was linked to other spills in Pointe-a-Pierre and Riser Platform 5 and Platform 17 in Trinmar.

He said the source of the oil-stained waters off Queens Beach (Coffee Beach) in La Brea remained undetermined.

Hassanali said the leaks at Pointe-a-Pierre and Trinmar were contained.

Dial said in each of the five oil leaks Petrotrin had established separate incident command centres. 

“Coming out from these incidents we immediately mobilised our response teams. The contractors were hired and mobilised with equipment and most cases especially at La Brea and Trinmar heavy equipment are being utilised and this includes the use of backhoes and trucks but we have also a number of contractor manpower,” he said.

Dial said contractors were instructed to use personnel from within the area who have been trained in oil spill response. 

“We have one of our key contractors in the area, Tiger Tanks. They have trained about 75 persons from La Brea in oil spill contingency response and those persons from the community and clean up exercise.”

Dial said  an absorbent material was being used along the shoreline to absorb and remove the oil. He said an environmental friendly chemical was being used near the mangrove areas.

Dial said affected residents were being treated by a team from the company’s Santa Flora Medical Centre.

A medical centre was established at the Lake Asphalt human resources building, where residents were shuttled using an ambulance.

“About 25 persons sought medical attention. Twenty-four were discharged and one transferred to Point Fortin for further treatment for asthma,” he said.

Dial said discussions were also being held with fishermen in terms of compensation issues.

“The other aspect is really the source of the oil in La Brea. It is a question that is currently being asked, how did the oil get on the La Brea beach which we cannot see a direct link to the Trinmar incidents and Pointe-a-Pierre incident at this point in time. We are still continuing investigations at this point in time,” he said.

Last night Petrotrin alerted all residents and stakeholders in the areas of Point Coco, Granville, Fullerton, Bonasse, Boodram Trace, Unity Beach and surrounding areas that oil was sighted along the coastline, near shore and on land.

A release stated personnel were in the process of conducting clean-up operations. Boat owners, fishermen and fisherfolk were asked to exercise extreme caution and if possible avoid venturing in or near the sea over the next 48 hours.

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