There is concern that disaster may be brewing as the leaking pipeline that spewed oil into the New Cut Channel and Godinuea River over two weeks ago is now seeping into the surrounding wetlands.
As a team of journalists accompanied members of the South Oropouche Riverine Flood Action Committee to the oil spill site off the La Fortune Pluck Road in Woodland yesterday, a security guard approached and pumped his shotgun.
He informed the teams that they could not access the area.
Despite this, aerial surveillance footage showed a pool of oil gathering approximately 100 metres from the river bank.
A trip down the New Cut Channel showed spots of oil and a sheen still floating around.
Two weeks ago, fishermen in the area discovered it on their way to the Gulf of Paria. Yesterday, the water bubbled in an area where three pipelines owned by Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd entered the river.
During Heritage Petroleum’s virtual river tour on Monday, Health, Safety, Security and Environment manager Shyam Dyal said cleanup crews removed 90 per cent of the oil from the river.
Dyal said that when company officials looked at the ecosystem, they did not see free oil on the surface of the river. He said there were wildlife and healthy mangrove throughout.
But during yesterday’s visit to the river, committee president Edward Moodie said heavy and persistent rains last week washed the oil onto the banks. Moodie said the cleanup crews did not use absorbent material to remove the oil from the soil and only engaged in minor leaf picking of the stained mangroves.
“Most of the river is still contaminated. The bank is still contaminated with oil. We got some calls yesterday morning that oil was actually spreading through the lagoon; the wetland area just to the West of where the oil spilt into the river from the same line. They brought in security and prevented any of the workers from using their cameras. There were strict orders.
The Oropouche Wetland is home to caimans and several species of birds and freshwater fishes. Many residents make a living from selling conch, oysters and crabs they harvest from the mangroves. The New Cut Channel is home to the Sudama Teerath where Hindus offer prayers and metres aways is a berthing site for fishing pirogues.
Moodie is concerned that if the leak of not plugged soon, oil can spill into the nearby “Duck Pond River” which he said is the only freshwater river in the area.
“So 200 feet away and I think they are bordering on a disaster unless they do what is right.”
Oropouche West MP, Davendranath Tancoo accused Heritage Petroleum of continuing to neglect its ageing infrastructure.
In a media release yesterday Tancoo said, “It is time for the executive management of Heritage Petroleum to step out of their ivory towers in Port-of-Spain and come and witness first-hand, the effect their neglect and incompetence has caused citizens and the environment,” Tancoo said.
Guardian Media contacted Heritage Petroleum’s Corporate Communications Unit for a response. The company said it would issue a media release, but there was none up to press time.