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Petrotrin fined $20 million by EMA

...as a result of oil spills in Gulf of Paria

By Multimedia Desk

THE Environmental Management Authority (EMA) today disclosed that Petrotrin has been fined $20 million as a result of its role, and response to multiple oil spills in the Gulf of Paria last month, which continue to cause social disruption and major enviromental damage along the south west coastline. The EMA issued the statement during a press conference in Port of Spain. The following is the full statement -

On Tuesday 17 December, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) was alerted to an oil spill surfacing along the south-west coastline. The Authority immediately dispatched a Compliance and Enforcement Officer to investigate the report, upon which the sightings were confirmed. On Wednesday 18 December, the EMA in consultation with the Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, invoked Section 25 of the Environmental Management (EM) Act which relates to emergency response.

On the 19th of December, the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) was activated. This contingency plan mandates that a Committee comprising of officials from the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs, the Environmental Management Authority, Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority be established to oversee all investigations into the source of the oil spill, and the extent and gravity of its impacts on human health and the environment. Once this contingency plan is activated, preliminary investigations must be completed before any further action, legal or otherwise, is undertaken by any individual agency of the NOSCP Committee.

Since the initial reporting of the oil spills the EMA’s Compliance and Enforcement team has sustained a presence on the affected sites, with frequent aerial and ground surveys, interviews with relevant personnel, and meticulous reviewing of certificates of Environmental Clearance relating to this incident.
It is based on these internal investigations, coupled with findings contained in the preliminary report by the Institute of Marine Affairs, that the EMA identified Petrotrin as the violator and initiated legal proceedings by serving two Notices of Violation (NOVs): NOV 2004/2014 and NOV 2005/2014 on Friday 3rd January, 2014, with respect to several breaches of the EM Act. These breaches include:
1. The failure of Petrotrin to submit for approval the required methods for the disposal and treatment of waste generated from the aforementioned oil spills.
2. The failure of Petrotrin to report all accidents, emergencies and spills within the stipulated time frame.
3. The failure of Petrotrin to comply with health and air-monitoring requirements
4. The failure of Petrotrin to submit a complete written report of the incident
Petrotrin, in response to the EMA’s action, made representations to the EMA and admitted to the violations articulated in the respective NOVs. A Consent Agreement was entered into in which Petrotrin was fined a sum of TT $20 million dollars. The monies would be used towards the assessment, remediation and rehabilitation of the impacted sites inclusive of but not limited to the following activities:

1. Determination of sources of the oil spills into the Gulf of Paria.

2. Monitoring work carried out by government departments and other public bodies to assess the environmental impact of the Petrotrin Oil spill and the subsequent clean-up activities.

3. Establishment of Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment team to undertake reconnaissance surveys of damaged resources and select study sites for damage assessment.

4. Assessment of the fate and behaviour of the oil, and the effectiveness of the clean-up.

5. Identification of sampling and monitoring priorities for evaluating impacts of the spill.

6. Determination of which detailed studies to undertake. Document assessment process – reasons for decisions on priorities and strategies.

7. The initiating and coordination of studies to ensure that a comprehensive set of monitoring data on environmental distributions and impacts is obtained.

8. Determination through these studies and assessment programmes the overall impact of the incident on environmental resources of the area affected (these resources to include but not limited to fisheries, invertebrate resources, benthic ecology and wetlands) and to assess the subsequent recovery of these resources. The assessment will also include discussion of fate and effects of unrecovered oil left to biodegrade and weather in the Natural environments. Information on the distribution of pollutants relevant to human health will be passed to public health authorities for assessment.

9. Assessment of the capabilities and constraints for minimizing environmental resource impacts and enhancing recovery and identify appropriate mitigation measures.

10. Development of a long term Remediation and Rehabilitation Action Plan to address the environmental impacts and initiate monitoring and studies of the effects of the oil spill on the environment.

11. Monitoring and evaluation of the Remediation and Rehabilitation Action Plan to determine its effectiveness.

12. Development of an Environmental Impact Mitigation and Assessment Response Framework.

During the course of next week, further site visits are expected to be conducted with technical expertise from the Institute of Marine Affairs and other agencies. Site visits have been identified and teams would be deployed to each site to allow for daily updates.

The EMA further advises that the issue of public health is of grave concern to the Authority, and one of the members of its Board of Directors, Dr. Rai Ragbir, recently hosted a medical clinic to assist affected residents of the impacted areas. The EMA will continue to monitor the impacts of the oil spills on public health and will continue to provide appropriate recommendations to relevant agencies.

Since the initial reporting of the oil spill, the EMA has been criticised for its treatment of this incident. However, as evidenced by the above, the EMA is continuously assessing the environmental impacts to develop comprehensive and effective measures to rehabilitate and restore affected sites. Furthermore, the EMA stresses that any course of action must be supported by accurate findings, and the Authority continues to gather information. The Authority will aggressively pursue assessments until it is satisfied with the emergency response, rehabilitation and remediation measures to restore the affected environment to its original state.

The EMA will continue to respond to the oil spill in a conscientious, responsible and timely manner in accordance with the provisions of the EM Act. Owing to the sensitive nature of this most unfortunate incident, the EMA is unable to release any further information at this time. The public will be updated accordingly in subsequent press releases and we thank you for your cooperation thus far.

NB - EXPRESS photographers Dexter Philip and Innis Francis on Monday (December 30) spent time in La Brea and in the waters off the coast between Otaheite and La Brea surveying the damage done by the oil spills in the Gulf of Paria. These are some of the images they brought back.

(Multimedia Editor - richard.charan@trinidadexpress.com)
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