Noxious neglect

A Heritage Petroleum Co Ltd worker on Monday inspects an oil pipeline which ruptured at Masahood Village, Fyzabad on Sunday. - Marvin Hamilton
A Heritage Petroleum Co Ltd worker on Monday inspects an oil pipeline which ruptured at Masahood Village, Fyzabad on Sunday. - Marvin Hamilton

THE PARIA diving tragedy enquiry – whose final report has now been delayed – has a narrow remit, limited as it is to the events that occurred at facilities owned by the Paria Fuel Trading Company leading up to and after February 25, 2022.

While much attention has rightly been paid to Paria’s operations, little attention has been paid to Paria’s sister company, Heritage Petroleum.

Heritage is TT’s newest state-owned oil and gas company, having been incorporated in 2018. And yet its operations involve some of the oldest infrastructure in the industry, inherited from Petrotrin.

Case in point, the 16-inch trunk oil pipeline at the centre of developments in Fyzabad on Sunday evening. Two leaks triggered the evacuation of at least 20 families. Oil ran into drains. People fell ill.

On Tuesday, responding to questions from UNC Senator Wade Mark, acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert said the pipeline was part of a cross-island network approximately 30 years old and over 80,000 kilometres in length.

Residents believe the pipeline to be almost 100 years old.

This incident, which comes as TT pushes to continue hydrocarbon activities and as the Prime Minister and Energy Minister Stuart Young discussed energy security with US officials in Washington, DC, on Monday, demonstrates the need for attention to be paid to domestic issues surrounding the impact of oil and gas on the environment and on public health.

Mr Imbert said he will in future urge Heritage to do their best to stop any person who is building on top of a pipeline in an unlawful manner.

But it should not take a ministerial directive for this to occur.

There has been, for too long, a problem with how land use has been regulated in this country, with too many residential areas being in uncomfortable proximity to hazardous industrial areas, with little attempt to rectify such situations in a way that is satisfactory to all parties.

Meanwhile, both the Paria tragedy and this latest leak – which residents say is a repeat of history – raise questions about the need for a comprehensive review of aging assets that are at risk of buckling.

Mr Imbert said a pipeline inspection and replacement programme has been ongoing for the last two years, with 800,000 feet of pipeline inspected, and over 50,000 replaced. (A Cabinet-appointed team that reviewed Petrotrin’s operations in 2017 noted the entity’s “history of ongoing leaks and seeps would suggest that it is almost a ‘burning platform.’”)

But inspecting underground pipelines is a challenge, especially if structures have been built over them.

The latter is a problem of the State’s own making.

It needs to get the balance between planning and enforcement right so that people are not exposed, wittingly or unwittingly, to danger.


"Noxious neglect"

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