By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
BEC has pledged that “aggressive measures” are being taken to combat oil pollution at Clifton Pier, with the Government promising a further $10 million to supplement the $900,000 it spends annually now.
Supreme Court documents, obtained by Tribune Business, reveal that BEC has invested more than $1 million in equipment - and employs a 22-strong workforce - solely to deal with environmental clean-up and mitigation across its business.
Shevonn Cambridge, BEC’s deputy general manager with responsibility for New Providence, alleged in an April 15, 2016, affidavit that direct discharges of oil and related products had been “virtually eliminated or reduced to a minimum”.
He argued that the pollution-related issues at Clifton Pier largely stemmed from historical issues at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation’s (BEC) facilities, but conceded that there were “still some vulnerabilities” being addressed.
Mr Cambridge was backed by Bharti Jones, BEC’s safety and environment manager for New Providence, who revealed that the Corporation is currently dedicating $920,000 annually to the clean-up and mitigation efforts at Clifton Pier.
Of this budget, some $500,000 covers labour costs, while $100,000 and $300,000 are allocated to materials and supplies, respectively. The $20,000 balance goes towards maintenance.
Ms Jones said three boats, three storage tanks and 1,030 feet of containment booms were dedicated to pollution recovery, with around 26,000 gallons of oil recovered every month from recovery wells and trenches at Clifton Pier.
Her evidence, and that of Mr Cambridge, is intended to be a direct rebuttal to the bid by the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay, the environmental activist group, to obtain a Supreme Court injunction barring BEC from further oil-related discharges at Clifton Pier.
BEC executives (see other article on Page 1B) are arguing that such an injunction, if granted, would be impossible to implement in practice, and could result in the effective shut-down of its New Providence electricity operations.
The injunction application is part of a wider Judicial Review action, which the Coalition has already obtained Supreme Court permission to bring, against BEC and three Cabinet ministers for allegedly breaching their legal duties to clean up - and deal with - its pollution at Clifton Bay.
However, Mr Cambridge argued that such claims were “simply wrong and unsubstantiated”, given the ongoing efforts by BEC and the Government to tackle the problem.
“What is clear, however, is that since the recognition of the problem with respect to the discharge of oil in the ground environment, with any resultant or concomitant release into the sea, BEC and the Government respondents.. have taken, and are implementing, aggressive measures and plans to deal with the issues,” he alleged.
Referring to BEC’s Corporation-wide oil pollution management plan, drawn up in 2002, Mr Cambridge added: “To effectively execute this programme, BEC has invested more than $1 million in equipment, $300,000 in consumables, and has increased its manpower to 22 persons, who are solely dedicated to the recovery and remediation efforts.”
He admitted, though, that BEC “has identified deficiencies in its maintenance and operations programmes at Clifton Pier that served as possible sources of ground and/or sea contamination”.
Mr Cambridge revealed that BEC was conducting “a comprehensive evaluation” of its bulk fuel storage tanks, which had resulted in one - Tank 13 - being cleaned, inspected and repaired.
All other storage tanks at Clifton Pier “are to be addressed in immediate succession”, while the on-site storage of waste oil and sludge was being “minimised” via incineration and a disposal agreement with Engineers & Consultants Ltd.
Mr Cambridge added that a “general clean-up” at Clifton Pier Power Station occurred in January 2013, which involved the cleaning of trenches and removal of oil drums and solid waste.
“Within the last 12 months, it was determined that there was some discharge (sheen) into the sea occurring as a result of contaminants being drawn up by the borehole pumps (cooling water wells),” Mr Cambridge added.
“The offending wells were identified and were subsequently sleeved (lined) to levels beyond the point of ingression to eliminate this issue.”
He alleged that BEC had also implemented measures to detect any leakages and product losses, while there were “set regulations and procedures, with checks and balances” governing the storage of raw materials, including its lube oil and fuel oil.
“It cannot be understated that every effort is made to comply with standard ‘cradle to the grave’ accounting practices for the custody of such products,” Mr Cambridge said.
“In this regard, consumption records are maintained as a part of the generation and production statistics, and waste streams are measured as best as practicably possible.”
Besides ongoing staff education and training, Mr Cambridge said the Government had committed to spending more than $10 million among its relevant departments and agencies to deal with the oil pollution/management situation at Clifton Pier.
“In light of the initiatives described, the assertion [by the Coalition] that BEC and the Government have not taken action or sufficient action to address the ‘worsening situation’ are simply wrong and unsubstantiated,” Mr Cambridge alleged.
“Clifton Pier Power Station is committed to the continual monitoring and remediation of oil seepage, and where it has knowledge of the source of loss or potential loss, it has used - and is using - best efforts and industry practices to remediate.
“As a result of these initiatives, any direct discharge of oil or oil products into the environment via the ground or sea has been virtually eliminated or reduced to a minimum,” Mr Cambridge continued.
“However, because of the existence of oil product in the ground from historical discharges, and due to the natural formation of the rock and tidal elements, there is still an issue with some of this product leeching into the sea.
“Further, the process of flushing water through the boreholes (wells) for the cooling system also picks up some of the contaminants in the ground and discharges sheen and other trace amounts into the sea.
“Additionally, and again as has been explained, there are still some vulnerabilities with respect to holding tanks, bunds and piping which are being addressed.”
Mr Cambridge implied that the oil pollution problem at Clifton Pier has been more than four decades in the making, and that the BEC power plant was built at a time when environmental practices and safeguards were much more lax than today.
“With respect to these historical discharges, it has to be borne in mind that the Clifton Pier Power Station is over 40 years old, and as such would have faced challenges with poor handling practices during the early development period,” he added.
Turning to the Coalition’s claim that he had admitted to BEC’s Clifton oil pollution problems in 2013, Mr Cambridge said his remarks accepting that fact did not amount to any admission or ‘confirmation’ on the Corporation’s behalf.
“It was simply an acknowledgement that over the years, deficiencies in the processes involved in the generation of electricity, storage, transfer and disposal of oil waste and oil products had led to quantities of oil and waste products being deposited in the ground, quantities of which have periodically leached into the sea surrounding the area,” he added.
Ms Jones, meanwhile, joined Mr Cambridge in alleging that BEC was “not the sole contributor” to Clifton’s oil pollution problems, alluding to the presence of nearby facilities belonging to the three oil majors - Rubis, Sol Bahamas (Esso), and FOCOL (Shell).
She added that BEC was first made aware of oil pollution in 1999, when a cave on the Clifton Pier coastline was found to have oil in it.
“Notwithstanding the recovery effort and the improvement in waste management practices, there are still periodic seepages into the sea of some oil product along the coastline fronting the power station compound,” Ms Jones confirmed.
“Due to the cavernous nature of the stone in the area of the Clifton Pier Power Station, this has resulted in the pooling of product from multiple sources.”
She added that the mitigation/recovery efforts included sea and foot patrols, with the former monitoring the coastline from Jaws Beach to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force base in Coral Harbour.
“BEC has invested tremendous manpower and material in its environmental management and safety plan, and has taken concerted efforts to respond to, and recover and remediate, oil products in the environs of the Clifton Pier Power Station,” Ms Jones said.
“In light of this, the averments [by the Coalition] that the Corporation has not taken any or sufficient actions are not correct.”
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis told the House of Assembly last year that a maximum $20 million would be assigned to deal with BEC’s legacy environmental issues from the proceeds of the planned $600 million Rate Reduction Bond (RRB) issue.
Yet the Coalition recalled that Simon Townend, managing director of KPMG’s corporate finance arm in the Caribbean, gave a November 2013 interview to Tribune Business in which he said BEC’s environmental liabilities could exceed $100 million.
That sum is more than five times’ higher than the Government’s $20 million cap, and what makes the estimate more significant is that Mr Townend was a key adviser to the Christie administration on its BEC and energy reform process.
The RRB has yet to be placed, amid suggestions that the earliest it can come to market is the 2016 third quarter.