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EMA fines Petrotrin $20M

By SEAN DOUGLAS Wednesday, January 8 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Still cleaning: Wendell Thomas, resident of Queen's Beach, La Brea, points to mangrove still to be cleaned of oil on Monday. ...
Still cleaning: Wendell Thomas, resident of Queen's Beach, La Brea, points to mangrove still to be cleaned of oil on Monday. ...

THE Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has fined State-run Petrotrin $20 million for breaching the terms of its certificates of environment clearance (CEC) by its allegedly poor response to the December 17 oil-spill at La Brea that ruined marine-life, beaches and communities on Trinidad’s south west coast.

Petrotrin has agreed to pay the fine which the EMA said would be used for various remediation steps at the oil-spill site.

EMA chairman, Dr Alan Bachan, held a news conference yesterday at the EMA office, Elizabeth Street, St Clair, with fellow directors Michael Rooplal, Dr Rai Ragbir and Gayatree Badree- Maharaj.

The EMA said Petrotrin was fined for failings in its response after the oil-spill, but that it is outside of the EMA’s remit to punish Petrotrin for the oil-spill itself, but said that any affected resident might sue Petrotrin under the common law for say the tort offence of nuisance.

Petrotrin president, Khalid Hassanali, yesterday told Newsday the EMA’s $20 million fine was harsh. He said, “In respect to the measures we have taken in respect of the environment and in respect to the persons and communities affected, I do find it is a bit harsh.”

In a statement issued at the news conference, the EMA said that last Friday it had served two notices of violation (NOV) on Petrotrin for violation of the EMA Act.

These breaches include Petrotrin’s failure get approval for its methods of disposal of oil-spill waste; failure to promptly report all accidents, emergencies and spills; failure to comply with health and air-monitoring requirements; and failure 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,” said the EMA statement. “A consent agreement was entered into in which Petrotrin was fined a sum of $20 million. The monies would be used towards the assessment, remediation and rehabilitation of the impacted sites...”.

The statement listed 12 examples of activities that the $20 million would be used to pay for to counter the effects of the oil-spill.

These include to find the sources of the spill; to monitor the clean-up and assessment of the environmental impact of the spills by State bodies; to establish a Shoreline Clean-up and Assessment team to survey damage; to assess the fate of the oil and the effectiveness of the clean-up; to identify priorities for sampling and monitoring the impact of the spill; to determine which detailed studies are to be done; to do studies to get data to determine the impact of the spill on fisheries, invertebrates, benthic ecology and wetlands; to monitor their subsequent recovery and discuss the fate of unrecovered oil left to bio-degrade; to develop a long-term Remediation and Rehabilitation Action Plan; and to plan how to minimise the impact of any future spills.

The statement said while some have criticised the EMA’s treatment of the incident, the EMA is constantly assessing the environmental impacts so as to create new steps to rehabilitate and restore the affected sites. Further any course of action by the EMA must be supported by accurate findings, even as the EMA continues to gather new details.

Bachan said it is too soon to spell out specifics as to how all these measures would be carried out, such as whether local or foreign expertise would be used.

Energy Minister, Kevin Ramnarine, last night at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, after a National Security Council briefing told reporters he knew of the EMA’s actions. “The EMA is an independent authority and you know they have their job to do and we respect what they do and the action taken is well within the Environmental Management Act, and Petrotrin will comply with whatever the EMA decides,” said Ramnarine.

He said he was told of Petrotrin’s suspension of 12 employees who were part of the shift at the Pointe-a-Pierre jetty on the early morning of December 17, the scene of the first oil spill.

“I am also advised that some more suspensions may be coming,” said Ramnarine. “And the suspensions were primarily from a precautionary point of view to ensure the integrity of the investigation. The suspensions are with full pay and the suspensions will not be deemed as any disciplinary action against those persons suspended.” He said investigations continue at Petrotrin around the spill.

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