MILLION GALLONS LEAKED IN SPILL: Full scale of disaster revealed as Equinor clean-up continues

By DENISE MAYCOCK 

Tribune Freeport Reporter

dmaycock@tribunemedia.net 

EQUINOR officials in Grand Bahama yesterday confirmed that more than 35,000 barrels of crude oil have been recovered to date from its South Riding Point facility and efforts continue towards “full recovery” in East End.

It’s been a month since “the catastrophic” oil spill at the facility on September 2 during Hurricane Dorian. According to an official, 36,299 barrels have been recovered so far, which amounts to more than 1.4 million gallons of oil. 

Additionally, officials have “categorically denied” accusations of unsafe and unfair treatment of Bahamians who are working, along with foreign responders, to clean up the spill.

Human rights and environmental activist Joseph Darville recently toured the facility and the affected pine forest area just north of the oil terminal, which had 1.8 million barrels of crude oil stored there prior to the storm. The terminal has a capacity of 6.75 million barrels.

While officials still not know how much oil was discharged in terms of volume from two of three storage tanks that were compromised, a company spokesperson assured the public that “our efforts continue for a full recovery.”

In a brief statement on Tuesday, the company indicated its commitment to complete the clean-up in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.

“Equinor has categorically denied any unfair and unsafe treatment related to Bahamian workers. We see the well-being of all of our team members as a priority.

“We are pleased to meet with Joe Darville and hope is now in a more informed position. While we are dismissing his claims regarding the workers, we value his concerns and productive input,” the statement said.

A company spokesman said Equinor officials met with Mr Darville and invited him to the facility for a comprehensive overview of the situation and what it is doing to clean up the spill.

“He accepted an invitation to tour the facility, and today (Tuesday) he toured the operation,” the spokesman said.

When contacted, Mr Darville told The Tribune that he was satisfied with how the company is dealing with the situation and the clean-up. Last week he released a statement alleging Bahamian workers did not have proper clean-up attire and equipment. 

“In spite of this catastrophic event, we are very happy today that all instruments necessary and activity we see that the clean-up is being carried out in very diligent manner to our satisfaction. This is still a catastrophic event and there is no diminishing that, but the strategies and protocols are there to mitigate and return ecosystems to the extent where they are able to repair themselves over a period of time,” Mr Darville said.

According to Mr Darville, the Equinor team met with him and Rashema Ingraham, also of Save the Bays/ Waterkeeper Bahamas, last Friday at the Pelican Bay Resort and gave them an overview of what they were doing.

The slide show presentation via computer, he felt, was not adequate, and they requested a site visit.

“It was not sufficient at all, and we wanted to visit the site to see with our eyes what was being done, and to speak again with the experts at Polaris who are there as acting as the experts,” he explained.

The tour was set for Friday but was postponed due to bad weather to yesterday morning.

“We went and they gave a comprehensive overview of all aspects of the operation on site, and I asked questions about what sort of treatment was done,” Mr Darville said.

They were then taken on a tour with about eight to ten company officials of the forest area where the crude oil had been removed. Also accompanying them were environmental representatives here, as well as experts from Polaris, which had provided advice on the Exxon Valdez and the Gulf oil spills, and are now advising Equinor on best methods of dealing with the East End spill.

According to Mr Darville, many acres of the affected pine forest were being uprooted, but the government had ordered them to cease that activity.

“They were given orders by government to cease from uprooting pine trees saturated with oil. I gather the company and their advisor from aboard, Polaris, were told to leave pine trees there because it is a good possibility that they would survive,” he said.

The environmental activist reported that a large area, about 35 to 50 acres of pine trees were uprooted, and that close to 700 acres of pine trees still have oil on them.

Despite this, Mr Darville said the trees are showing signs of recovery.

“Today happily I noticed there were some new green needles at the top of the pine trees, and I commended them for not uprooting them because oil was on the trunks,” he said.

He believes that a lot of pine trees may continue to grow, but their main concern is its effect on wetlands in the area, particularly a huge area of 50 - 75 acres in middle of the pine forest.

Mr Darville said there are mangroves growing in those wetlands,  fish and other animals.

“Rashema Ingraham and I were happy they were showing due respect to the wetland which is very significant to the water table,” he said.

“I took a chance and touched the water and it is fresh water which means the wetlands is connected directly to the water system. We were concerned about the wetlands and oil seeping into the water table. We have yet to determine that and we took samples a week ago and are waiting for the results, and hoping we do not find contamination into the water table,” he said.

Concerning the spill, Mr Darville explained that initially the spill was being reported to be nothing of significance, not as extensive even though officials were aware of it.

He made a trip to the area and said it was obviously a catastrophic oil spill and was immediately concerned about the extent of it.

“We traversed the whole area about two miles north of Equinor and it went all the way and had penetrated the pine forest. When we went back to see if any commencement of clean-up had begun we were baffled there was none a week after the storm,” he said.

On their third trip to the area, Mr Darville had noticed that clean-up had started, but said he was shocked to see that Bahamian workers were not properly clothed or wearing breathing apparatus.

“I put out a very powerful statement as people were on ground from different entities, and I was really depressed that Bahamians were not properly clothed,” he explained.

After releasing his statement, Mr Darville said he was informed that workers were advised that they should not be on site unless they were properly clothed and with a breathing apparatus.

Mr Darville said prior to that workers were standing in oil and water up their knees with boots on but had nothing on their heads and faces.