ENVIRONMENT groups are concerned about the impact an oil spill at Equinor’s facility on Grand Bahama caused by Hurricane Dorian may have on wildlife, ground water and marine protected areas.
Dorian stalled over Grand Bahama as a Category 4 hurricane for more than 24 hours after hitting the island late on September 1. In the aftermath of the deadly storm, photos emerged showing oil leaking from the South Riding Point storage and transshipment terminal. According to Equinor, the company that runs the facility, the terminal has a capacity to hold 6.75 million barrels of crude oil.
At a National Emergency Management Agency press conference on Saturday, officials said they did not know how much oil had leaked out, adding that at up to that point, Equinor had not presented a complete assessment of the incident.
In a statement, Equinor said there are no observations that the oil has seeped into the ocean adding it was too early to say how much oil had leaked from its facility.
Company officials dispatched a crew to contain the spill early Sunday. That team was set to arrive in Grand Bahama by 9am Sunday on a 16-seater helicopter. A vessel with remedial equipment left a Louisiana port on Saturday and was expected to arrive within 90 hours of departure.
“We have been in contact with the officials of Stat Oil, seeking to have a working remedy for the protection of the residents of Grand Bahama and to make sure that all life and the water supply in that area is not impacted on a long-term basis,” John Clarke, chairman of the government’s Disaster Relief and Reconstruction Committee, said on Saturday.
“Stat Oil has not yet presented a complete assessment of the oil spill. We know that it is on the ground, it is their responsibility to provide an assessment to the government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, we expect that assessment will be made shortly and that they would provide for us a working solution as well and our expectation would be that a solution would include a plan for clean up and restoration of the area.”
He said no clean up had begun up to Saturday evening.
He later said: “Stat Oil reports that a vessel containing remedial and spill (cleaning) equipment has left a Louisiana port heading to Grand Bahama and is expected to arrive in 90 hours at the terminal. Additionally, as a more immediate response, a 16-seater helicopter will arrive in Grand Bahama at approximately 9am Sunday September 8, 2019 with equipment and manpower to contain the present spill given the expected poor weather conditions. Further, Equinor is sourcing additional materials and supplies from Buck Eye in Grand Bahama to supplement its supplies until the arrival of the vessel.”
In a statement released on Sunday, the Bahamas National Trust said it intends to ensure that proper assessments of the full extent of the spill and impact to the wildlife, and a mapping of the extent of the leak into the ground water. The group said while it is focused on the human element of Dorian, there is a need to speak about the storm’s effects on the environment.
“The Bahamas National Trust is particularly concerned about a major oil leak from the Equinor/South Riding Point oil storage facility in East Grand Bahama, as confirmed by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). We understand the company is developing a plan to deal with the leak, and a team from the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) has been despatched to assess the situation. The BNT staff is also attempting to visit the site to verify the extent of the leak.
“This spill is of serious concern to the BNT. An already compromised ground water resource will once again be polluted with hydrocarbons that can have long-lasting impacts on communities and the people that rely on this water. Oil also kills many plants and animals, especially red mangroves and corals, therefore exacerbating the effects of the hurricane on the nearby ecosystems. This is particularly concerning for the three nearby protected areas, the Lucayan National Park, the Northshore and Gap National Park and the East Grand Bahama Protected Area.”
The group also said: “The BNT encourages the government to hold the company, Equinor, fully accountable. It is our view that Equinor must fund the costs of these assessments, all recovery efforts and to establish long-term monitoring programmes, to ensure the communities do not suffer from prolonged hydrocarbon exposure.”
Equinor – formerly known as Statoil – said it has mobilised oil spill response resources to its South Riding Point Grand Bahama facility.
Erik Haaland, a spokesperson, said in a statement: “Our initial aerial assessment of the South Riding Point facility has found that the terminal has sustained damage and oil has been observed on the ground outside of the onshore tanks. It is too early to indicate any volumes. At this point there are no observations of any oil spill at sea.
“Equinor has mobilised oil spill response resources and they will arrive at South Riding Point as soon as possible. We are now working to establish a better overview of the situation, and on mounting a safe and timely response to the situation.”
He added: “We have informed the local authorities of our initial assessment and remain in dialogue with them. In preparing for the hurricane, Equinor shut down operations of the terminal at noon on Saturday, 31 August. As a part of this process, Equinor personnel were given time off to look after their families and secure their private homes. The advice from local authorities to evacuate certain areas has also been followed. None of our personnel were at the terminal when the hurricane took place. While weather conditions on the island have improved, road conditions and flooding continue to impact our ability to assess the situation and the scope of damage to the terminal and its surroundings.”
When asked whether his ministry has been in communication with Equinor, Environment and Housing Minister Romauld Ferreira said: “We are enforcing compliance.”