Feb 12, 2024 News
…Can’t determine cost to clean up oil spill as yet
Kaieteur News – Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) finds itself in the midst of an environmental crisis as authorities grapple with an oil spill caused by a mysterious vessel with unknown proportions. Despite five days of efforts, the quantity of hydrocarbons in the vessel remains undetermined, leaving the twin-island nation in a state of uncertainty and concern.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley addressed the nation during a press conference, revealing the challenges faced in addressing the situation.
“Fact number one is that an unknown vessel has apparently drifted upside down into Tobago’s literal zone, that vessel we don’t know who it belongs to, we have no idea where it came from and we also don’t know all that it contains,” Dr Rowley said.
Dr. Rowley highlighted the significant size of the vessel, approximately 90 meters long. He added, “That’s not an insignificant size so if it has a lot of fuel in there it will take quite some time for it to dribble out and we just can’t disengage until it is emptied.”
The spilled hydrocarbons have already contaminated the water and shores of Tobago, posing a severe threat to the environment.
“That vessel could have come from any kind of operation, especially if that operation is illicit…” the Prime Minister said. He stated that while there is no record of the vessel entering the country’s territory, observations by divers indicate that the vessel may have been towed at some point, raising questions about its operations.
Authorities have been unable to ascertain the nature of the vessel, whether it is a freighter, tanker, or barge, as only the keel is visible. Despite mobilising a contingency plan, the situation remains precarious, with ongoing efforts to contain and minimize the spill’s impact.
Of particular concern is the uncertainty surrounding the type of hydrocarbon which is in the vessel and other contents that might be onboard. “We haven’t been able to determine if its bunker fuel…or raw crude, those are answers we don’t have at this point in time,” Dr Rowley said. The Prime Minister emphasized the necessity of determining this information to effectively mitigate the disaster’s effects.
Notably, he said too, “Steps are being taken to have infrared (infrared radiation (IR) look to see what’s in the vessel.”
The Prime Minister noted that the authorities are now in the containment phase which will remain for some time as long as the vessel is still in the water posing a threat to further contaminate the environment.
“But then we would want to move from that stage to emptying the vessel, because the one thing we cannot do is to leave the vessel there with contents that could just keep spewing into the water and because if we do that we will then be at the mercy of the tide and the weather,” Dr Rowley said.
He continued, “Because fortunately the weather is good right now so the booms are effective in holding the spill in the zone that it is in, but if the weather changes significantly, especially on high tides or on falling tides the behaviour of what is spilled from the vessel could change…”
Addressing the financial implications, Dr. Rowley said at this time there is no precise figure available; however, he stressed the importance of prioritising response efforts despite the uncertainty.
During a question and answer segment, the Prime Minister further acknowledged the complexity of estimating the financial toll of the spill, describing oil spills as messy, stressful, and expensive endeavors.
He said, “…so it’s a priority because we have to respond and we don’t know the full scope and scale of what is going to be required and therefore to try to say how much it will cost will simply be an uneducated estimate.”
As efforts continue to contain the spill and assess its impact, T & T authorities remain vigilant, recognizing the urgency of addressing this environmental catastrophe.
The Prime Minister told reporters, “Cleaning and restoration can only seriously begin after we have brought the situation under control. The vessel is literally precipitously located, it can change its location based on the tide and remember the tide lifting and banging that vessel against the rock it can break, new holes can open and then the vessel can slip into deeper waters and the situation can change so let us not behave as though we have it fully under control.”
Trinidad & Tobago’s history in the oil and gas sector spans over a century, marking its enduring involvement in the industry. Its Caricom neighbour Guyana has emerged as a prominent player in the oil industry, with five years of oil production and a staggering output of over 650,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) from three ships in the Stabroek Block—Liza Destiny, Liza Unity and Prosperity.
The spill in Tobago comes at a critical juncture, when Guyana is grappling with a legal battle to ensure American oil giant, ExxonMobil, the parent company of ExxonMobil Guyana Limited (EMGL), the operator of the Stabroek Block, provides full liability coverage to protect Guyana financially from costs associated with a spill, since many experts have warned this can bankrupt the nation.
Litigants Frederick Collins and Godfrey Whyte had secured an unlimited parent company guarantee from the local court for ExxonMobil to cover costs the US$600M insurance would not meet. The ruling was however challenged by the ExxonMobil Guyana and Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As such, a US$2B oil spill guarantee was ordered by Justice Rishi Persaud, as the Appeal Court continues hearing the appeal. Lawyers for Whyte and Collins had made several attempts to view the guarantee reportedly lodged. Following failed attempts, they approached the Court for the release of the document. In the meantime, the company has since declared that the guarantee was lodged.
Everything that comes out of Jagdeo’s mouth is aimed at confusing this nation.
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