– As company’s EIA leaves burden on the country
There is widespread outrage in Trinidad over an oil spill that has been spreading
across the island’s western coast since Sunday.
Trinidadians are lamenting the effects of the disaster off the coast of Chaguaramas. They worry not only about the financial cost to effect an efficient clean up but the long term effects that the spill will have on tourism and fishing.
There has been an influx of Trinidadian specialists and politicians coming to Guyana over the past few months. They have all been speaking of ways that Guyana can learn from Trinidad’s experience as an oil producing nation.
However, most of the talks have been on issues like local content, Corporate Social Responsibility, Corruption and financial related matters. Little conversation has been on the environment.
The recent oil spill speaks for itself about the need for Guyana to look and learn. Since the spill, Trinidad nationals have been calling on their politicians to ensure legislation that outlines a better response to oil spill.
The response should be mandatory. They are also calling for the oil companies to be held responsible.
Guyana has even less in place than Trinidad to protect the environment.
With ExxonMobil’s operations heading into full swing, Guyana is now at risk of having to face the consequences of an oil spill.
It was earlier reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accepted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from the oil giant. According to the source document, ExxonMobil has little or no plans in place to deal with any oil spill.
Exxon claims that the possibility of an oil spill is not very high. However, it said that there is a 10 percent chance that in the event of a spill, oil will reach the coast of Guyana where 90 percent of its population sits.
ExxonMobil inferred that because of the purported ‘slim’ chance of an oil spill, detailed response measures are not needed. However, with a two percent possibility of occurring, the practice around the world is that oil companies are made to cater in detail for disasters.
There is also nothing in the EIA that speaks to how Guyana’s neighbours will be compensated. What was clear is that ExxonMobil did not commit to bearing the legal or financial responsibility in the event of a disaster.
Neighbouring countries, should environmental damage occur, can move against Guyana. If the burden is left to be borne by Guyana, the country may have to pay damages equivalent to years of oil revenues.
ExxonMobil’s EIA also offers no compensation to fishermen and other Guyanese who are most likely to be affected in the case of an oil spill.
The EIA has little or no information on the role to be played by relevant stakeholders as it pertains to consultations, training and quick response measures.
What Trinidad is facing
Trinidad’s Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is investigating the spill, said Loop News.
The source of the spill is yet to be identified.
Environmentalist and head of Trinidad’s Fisherman and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), Gary Aboud, has described the oil spill off the coast of Chaguaramas as an “environmental nightmare”. It poses a serious threat to both marine and terrestrial ecosystems, is the warning.
“Thick black oil is spreading along the southern side of the entire north-western peninsula of Trinidad in the vicinity of Five Islands, Carrera Island, Constrat Island and Gaspree Island,” Aboud said in a video sent to Trinidad media.
“The area covered in oil appears to be much larger than the city of Port of Spain.”
He is quoted by Loop News saying, “The tide has changed but some of the residual oil remains in the bay. Fish can’t live in that; this is a national park, a Chaguaramas national park.”
While dipping his hands into the sea to show the magnitude of the oil spill, Aboud said, “Every week the big ships discard their waste oil from their bilges and this is what we get.”
Aboud fears that the widespread spillage will severely affect local fishing grounds placing consumers at risk of illness.
He said that the spill should serve as a wakeup call to those in authority to implement proper legislation and policies as well as stiffer penalties for companies that disregard environmental safety and best practice.
Aboud said, “Every year the Chaguaramas area suffers from massive oil spills and no one has ever been prosecuted or fined.”
Aboud warned that the damage would be greater as rising tides would thin the oily substance and spread it over a wider area.
He called on Parliament to pass legislation that will command a full emergency investigative authority to inspect every single vessel, tanker, pipeline, oil terminal refinery, or tank farm suspected.
Trinidad’s Maritime Services Division has advised all marine craft to be aware of the oily substance in the water and to report the extent of the spill and any information about who might be responsible.
Officials later confirmed that Kaizen Environmental Services had been appointed by the Energy Ministry to do an assessment.
They said in the absence of anyone coming forward to accept responsibility, tests will be done to determine the type and quality of the oil with a view to identify the supplier and locate the vessel transporting the substance.
The Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ZSTT) is also actively searching for adversely affected wildlife for rescue and rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) is calling on the Prime Minister to respond as to how he is going to compensate fisher folk for “this national disaster” which it claims has covered the marine space of the Chaguaramas National Park and as to whether the fish are safe to eat.
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Incoming Tour Operators’ Association (T&TITOA) Lorraine Pouchet, said, “The financial cost to clean this spill by both government agencies and private enterprise is going to be extensive but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Pouchet added that the real biological impacts will be the sale of toxic fish after the effect of the spill is absorbed by marine life.
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