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Workers of Heritage Petroleum Company Limited clean a section of the New Cut Channel in Woodland after one of its pipelines leaked oil into the river.

While Heritage Petroleum Company Limited wraps up cleaning operations in the South Oropouche river, one activist says he is still not happy with the company’s response.

South Oropouche Riverine Flood Action’s head Edward Moodie was commenting on the company’s latest update that 90 per cent of the oil has been cleaned up.

The spill occurred after a 16-inch trunk pipe developed a leak and affected a 3.7 km area along the river bank. The incident was reported to the company on Wednesday, November 18.

During a virtual tour of the impacted areas yesterday, company’s Health, Safety and Environment Manager Shyam Dyal said,

“When we look at the river ecosystem what we are seeing is no free oil on the surface of the river. We are seeing wildlife. We are seeing healthy mangrove throughout. You have some barks on the mangrove that may have some oil stains and the reason for that is that we have taken a policy decision not to use any chemicals, absolutely no chemicals.”

He said no damage was done to the mangrove during the cleanup operations.

“No soil was removed. No barks, no cutting of the mangroves took place. It was just oil leaves that would have been at the surface of the water at low tide that would have been contaminated.”

He said the leaves were “carefully plucked” and disposed of.

Dyal said the mangrove appeared healthy and along the way he had seen at least four caimans.

Noting the presence of oil stains on the mangrove root, he said that was because no chemicals were used.

Heritage’s Health, Safety and Environment Manager indicated that the company was going to halt its clean up efforts at 90 per cent.

“The international practice is when you have an incident in a mangrove or river ecosystem you allow natural attenuation to take place. Natural attenuation means that you allow nature to clean itself.”

Dyal said there were also safety concerns, including large wasp nests within the mangrove. Noting that throughout the cleanup activities they ensured the safety of all workers, including company and contractor personnel as well as fishermen, he said COVID-19 protocols were also observed.

In addition, he said the company’s wildlife rescue and rehabilitation team has been making daily visits to the impacted area since the incident and have rescued caimans and other animals. Meanwhile, he said the company continues to work with fisherfolk, many of whom were hired in the cleanup operations and the other affected stakeholders to bring closure to the incident.

Moodie, however, accused the company of failing to initiate critical cleanup operations within the first four days of the oil spill when the tide was low.

He said no oil tankers went in and pumped out the oil.

Moodie is still awaiting word on compensation for the fisherfolk, vendors and crab catchers.

He is hoping to attend a meeting with company officials on December 3 with Oropouche West MP Davendranath Tancoo.