By RIEL MAJOR
Tribune Staff Reporter
MORE than 100,000 barrels of oil - five million gallons - was spilled at the Equinor South Riding Point facility in East Grand Bahama during Hurricane Dorian, Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira said yesterday.
To date, more than 35,000 barrels of oil have been recovered from the site. Speaking in the House of Assembly, Mr Ferreira said four thousand acres of forest have been surveyed and 175 acres have been confirmed as affected in some way by crude oil.
"The final determination was 119,000 barrels of oil that was spilled during the passage of Hurricane Dorian. Everybody is aware the roof of the storage tanks blew off. Between wind, rain and tidal surge, oil spread out into the forest to the north and to the containment areas."
As parliamentarians debated an amendment to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act, Mr Ferreira said the bill is a part of the government's response to climate change.
"It would essentially be unconscionable (to allow persons to rebuild in) no build zones," he said.
He added: "It would also be unconscionable for us not to make the necessary legislative changes to allow the government to take action where need be to protect people from themselves. In the face of all of this, my ministry is doing its part."
Meanwhile, environment watchdog groups said the oil spill has contaminated water in critical wetland habitats, including an area more than one mile away from the spill. This is according to Waterkeepers Bahamas, Save the Bays, and Waterkeeper Alliance.
The groups noted in a joint statement that they tested water samples at five locations near the Equinor spill site and sent 54 individual water samples to an environmental chemist to a certified water testing lab in Wilmington, NC.
The water samples analysis displayed distinct petroleum components.
Waterkeeper Alliance field investigator Christian Breen said the results are well beyond what would be naturally occurring. The sample profile is distinct and consistent with the makeup of heavy-grade fuel oil, which is not supposed to be there, he noted.
The press statement read: "The affected wetlands provide a vital ocean buffer for Grand Bahama, as well as habitat for migratory birds, such as the West Indian woodpecker and red-legged thrush. The wetland also provides a critical cleansing mechanism for the island's scarce groundwater.
"...Save the Bays and Waterkeeper Alliance determined during a post-storm site visit that the spill thoroughly polluted the ground of at least a four-square-mile area that includes wetlands, pine forests, and mangroves."
Save the Bays Chairman Joseph Darville said the group recently witnessed dozens of workers cleaning up the massive amount of oil at the spill site.
Mr Darville said: "There were trucks vacuuming the oil and pumping it into tank trucks. We witnessed workers knee-deep in oil. Not only are these conditions unsafe for workers, but the haphazard and superficial clean-up we witnessed will not be adequate to protect the sensitive pine forest and wetlands threatened by this spill."
The joint statement continued: "Equinor has recovered 1.8 million gallons of oil from the site, company spokesman Erik Haaland told Waterkeeper Alliance on Tuesday."
Pete Nichols, Waterkeeper Alliance organising director, said as Equinor is a Norwegian company, this spill should be cleaned up to at least Norwegian standards. He added that Equinor CEO Eldar Sætre should ensure that the site is left as clean as it would be had this spill taken place behind his home in Norway.
The statement added: "The environmental groups call for a comprehensive impact study to quantify the impact of the spill, to properly identify all impacted areas, and to guide remediation efforts. Equinor agreed on Tuesday to planned monthly visits to the site from Save the Bays. The company also gave Save the Bays and Waterkeeper Bahamas a tour of the facility and impacted area earlier this month."
The oil terminal had 1.8 million barrels of crude oil stored there prior to the storm. The terminal has a capacity of 6.75 million barrels.
The dome-shaped lids of two storage tanks - numbers six and ten - at the facility were blown off, and oil was dispersed in the area as Hurricane Dorian unleashed 185mph winds and pummeled Grand Bahama for about 40 hours.