FLASHBACK – Heritage Petroleum teams cleaning up the oil spill along the New Cut Channel in South Oropouche, on Thursday 19 November 2020. (Image: RISHI RAGOONATH)

Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd has reported completing 90 per cent clean-up of the oil spill at the South Oropouche river, also known as New Cut Channel.

On the twelfth day of clean-up operations this morning, the company did a virtual tour of the affected area of the river. The spill, which was reported to the company on Wednesday 18 November 2020, had affected a 3.7-kilometre area along the riverbank.

Shyam Dyal, Health, Safety and Environment Manager, said no free oil was observed on the surface of the water and the mangrove appeared healthy.

“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,” Dyal reported.  “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.”

While the clean-up is 90 per cent completed, he said Heritage would be leaving the remaining ten per cent to nature.

“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 further explained they did not want to risk going deeper into the mangrove and damaging the ecosystem.

“Neither was soil removed nor was the mangrove cut during the clean-up,” he explained. “Only leaves with oil were carefully plucked and taken away in crocus bags.”

Noting that they had seen at least four caimans during the tour, Dyal also revealed the company’s wildlife rescue team have been visiting the river every day since the incident, rescuing and examining caimans and other wildlife. He said any affected animal would be taken to an offsite facility where it would be cleaned, rehabilitated and eventually released back into the wild.

The Heritage HSE manager also pointed out that the majority of fisherfolk were hired to assist with the clean-up exercise, along with about 12 of their boats.

“The company has been working with the fisherfolk, oyster and crab catchers, through the Ministry of Agriculture,” he said.

Fisherfolk had called for compensation as their livelihoods were affected by the spill.

Dyal assured that throughout the clean-up activities, the company had maintained a high level of safety, not just for its personnel and the contractor, but also the fisherfolk.