N Touch
Saturday 24 August 2019
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Oily hazard

WE COMMEND all who played a role in the rescue of brothers Adelle Cyrus, 12, and Darrel Clarke, 13, both survivors of an oil seep at Egypt Village, Point Fortin. Luckily, Wednesday’s incident had a happy ending. But this could have easily been a very sad story.

The boys’ stepfather, villagers and fire and police officers themselves also nearly perished.

The authorities must conduct a proper inquiry to determine how such a hazardous site was left unsecured and unattended for so long. This is especially so considering the fact that the incident took place near the bushy area of Techier Road at the back of the Egypt Village Government Primary School.

The way in which the rescuers too were themselves ensnared in the danger also suggests our emergency response has much room for improvement. Especially considering that the incident took place in the heart of our oil belt.

In fact, given this country’s long history of involvement in the oil sector, we would have expected a more robust system to be in place.

As far back as 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh made mention of petroleum seeps at the Pitch Lake. The oil industry has gone through much change and improvement since then. And while there have been cutbacks and retrenchments, it remains imperative for the highest standards of safety to be deployed in relation to all remaining resources.

Local government authorities, as well as the Environmental Management Authority and the Ministry of Health, have roles to play in identifying dangers to human health and safety posed by environmental conditions or the proximity of man-made settlements to them. Who will end the cycle of passing the buck?

For residents to report that 14 cows have been swallowed by the slick also suggests how long this problem has been going on as well as its economic costs. Farmers and residents on the ground have a duty too to report these matters to authorities, assuming they can figure out who is in charge.

Is it the oil company, Heritage? Is it the local government department? The constituency office? There needs to be clarity for residents.

The planning authorities should also be cognisant of the dangers of settlements that are located close to hazardous geographical conditions. Where these settlements arise due to squatting, enforcement action is required for the sake of safety.

Furthermore, ageing infrastructure needs to be reassessed and audited. Residents referred to the area as an oil dam formed by recurring leaks from a pumping jack and called on the authorities to secure the property immediately. We endorse this call.

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