At least 11 oil spills have crippled parts of Trinidad and Tobago, coating miles of beach with crude as the state-owned energy company scrambles to control what's being called one of the country's worst environmental disasters.
Petrotrin, Trinidad's state-owned oil company, first responded to an oil spill near La Brea on Dec. 17, according to a report from the Trinidad Guardian. Over the past month, the company has confirmed at least 11 spills and was slapped with a $3.1 million fine from the country's Environmental Management Authority last week, which the company's president, Khalid Hassanali, called "harsh."
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Here's where it gets weird.
The pipeline responsible for the first of the leaks at Petrotrin's Point-a-Pierre facility, which resulted in an initial spill of more than 7,000 barrels, may not have undergone any inspections for the past 17 years, according to a confidential report commissioned by the company and obtained by the Trinidad Guardian. Of the other 10 leaks, Petrotrin has accused saboteurs of causing at least 2 while releasing a series of media releases praising what they describe as "significant progress" during clean-up efforts, saying the beaches would be clean one to two weeks after the spill.
Petrotrin did not return requests for comment in time for publication.
However, local officials have accused the company of trying to downplay the extent and size of the spill, according to the Trinidad Express. Two former energy ministers also came forward earlier this month, saying Petrotrin did know about the state of its aging infrastructure after a government audit was ordered in 2010.
"There was no question of sabotage, it was all a question of bad operations on the part of Petrotrin," MP Paula Gopee-Scoon said. “It was a cover-up from day one.”
Petrotrin has since used the controversial dispersant Corexit 9500 to control the spill, used in record quantities by BP during 2010's Gulf oil spill. Many scientists have said the chemical becomes far more toxic than oil alone when the two are mixed, harming marine life, but Petrotrin's president has defended the use of the dispersant, saying "all the chemicals we are using are approved chemicals and we are using them in the approved manner."
Petrotrin's chairman denied the occurrence of any more spills in the region this week and insisted claims that oil had spread to neighboring Venezuela were false. But government officials have demanded the Minister of Energy commission an independent investigation into the cause of the spill "by people who don’t have anything to protect and no rear end to cover."
Trinidad's energy department approved a new national oil spill contingency plan in January 2013.
UPDATE: Jan. 22 -- Contrary to media reports of there being 11 spills, Trinidad's Environmental Management Authority released a statement on Jan. 17 claiming there have been only four that have impacted 12 locations and 10.5 miles of beach.
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