EVEN as it continues clean-up operations following the rupture of its 16-inch diameter oil pipeline in Massahood Village, Avocat on Sunday, state-owned Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd is warning the public that strong action will be taken against anyone violating the right of way of its above and below-ground network of pipelines.
Finance Minister and Acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert told the Senate on Wednesday that a home-owner had built a garage above the pipeline which eventually ruptured on Sunday.
As a result, 20 people from four households had to be kept at Paria Suites Hotel in La Romaine – at state expense – while clean-up operations began and are continuing. The 20 are still at the hotel.
A statement from Heritage on Wednesday said the company oversees a vast pipeline network of about 1,400 kilometres throughout southern Trinidad.
To date, it has inspected, repaired and/or replaced about 560 kilometres of pipeline since 2018 and is continuing its asset integrity works, surveillance and monitoring.
"Heritage actively monitors its right of way and other facilities for violations and trespass by third parties given the possible health and safety and environmental risks for violators and the surrounding communities," the update said.
"Where a violation of Heritage’s right of way or facilities is discovered, Heritage will verbally engage the occupier to discontinue the unlawful activity and subsequently serve cease and desist notices, if there is no compliance."
These notices require violators to relocate or otherwise stop the violation.
"If non-compliance remains, Heritage would take further steps including litigation and removal of illegal structures, to bring the violation to an end," the statement added.
Without naming anyone, the statement said an occupant built a garage, including a concrete driveway on the pipeline’s right of way and, further, directly over the in-service pipeline.
The concrete "Danger" sign (pipeline marker) directly in front of the house was ignored and also paved to accommodate the garage/driveway. This made it difficult for Heritage to carry out pipeline inspections.
The company said it informed the occupants of the "illegality of their actions" and the associated serious risk to the lives and well-being of the family and community.
Heritage said it has mobilised significant resources, working extended hours, to clean up the area as quickly as possible.
The family most affected is the Mohammeds of Oil Well Road. Its patriarch Azan "Bob" Mohammed, 60, lives on the property with his wife, their four adult children, the children's' spouses and his four grandchildren, all under the age of six.
Mohammed told Newsday on Wednesday that he has been living on the compound since birth and renovated the two adjoining structures over the years.
Mohammed told Newsday that he erected several poles to build a garage last year, but Heritage representatives stopped him from continuing. He and other relatives repair vehicles on the compound under a tarpaulin in the yard. The tarpaulin was not over the lines, he claimed.
Fyzabad MP Dr Lackram Bodoe also visited the area on Wednesday "to lend support" to the affected families.
The Opposition MP said he has written to Heritage seeking a meeting for clarity on several issues.