By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
OIL has been spotted in the ocean near Abaco and may have impacted parts of the coastline, days after an oil spill occurred in Grand Bahama.
Equinor, which operates the South Riding Point storage and transshipment terminal in Grand Bahama, said the source of the oil near Little Abaco Island is unknown. However, the company said it will be investigating the matter.
"Aerial surveillance has identified potential product in open waters 70-80 kilometres north east of the terminal within Long Point Bight close to Little Abaco Island," Equinor said in a statement released yesterday.
"There are also indications that the product may have impacted a section of the coastline."
The company also underscored there is "currently no observed leakage of oil to the sea" from the Grand Bahama facility.
In its statement, Equinor also announced it will be donating $1m to "one or more" local relief organisations in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
Hurricane Dorian stalled over Grand Bahama for two days 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 facility. According to Equinor, the terminal has a capacity to hold 6.75 million barrels of crude oil.
During a National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) press conference on Tuesday, NEMA Spokesperson Carl Smith said initial assessments of the oil spill revealed the matter to be "no concern" to public health. He added since the storm, there has been "no continuous impact to the marine environment from that oil spill".
Yesterday, when asked to respond to reports that the oil has traveled, Mr Smith defended his previous comments.
"As soon as NEMA was able to get personnel in the air to do air reconnaissance, we recognised that there was an oil spill," he said. "That information was conveyed to the company that owns and manages the facility. When that took place they indicated that they are aware of it and that they had already taken steps to mobilise a response to the spill.
"When I spoke yesterday (Tuesday), I think it was, the information that we provided was information conveyed to us by the by the oil company. So it was the best information that we had at hand at the time."
In its statement, Equinor said its team working at the South Riding Point terminal includes "an advanced onshore response team with oil spill technical specialists". It estimated more than 200 personnel are working with the response in The Bahamas, the US, and Norway.
"Two vessels are mobilised for the response at the South Riding Point terminal with 42 personnel and onshore oil spill recovery equipment," the statement continues. "The first vessel arrived at the terminal in the evening of 10 September".
The second vessel is scheduled to arrive today.
The vessels include containment booms and hundreds of bails of various absorbent pads/rolls, oil spill recovery skimmers, wash pumps, roll off boxes for collection generated waste, light towers, and smaller boats and protection equipment.
"Operations are ongoing at the terminal to secure the oil at the facility," the statement continues. "Oil from the damaged tanks has been moved to remaining tanks at the facility to reduce the risk of additional oil spills. An oil boom has been deployed to close the harbour at the terminal as a precautionary measure, and to reduce the risk of oil spill to sea.
"Two trucks have started recovery and transport of bulk free-standing oil on the ground to one of the tanks at the terminal.
"Equinor has completed the initial surveillance of the terminal and surrounding areas from the air and the ground. There is currently no observed leakage of oil to the sea from the South Riding Point terminal.
"Aerial surveillance has identified potential product in open waters 70-80 kilometres north east of the terminal within Long Point Bight close to Little Abaco Island. There are also indications that the product may have impacted a section of the coastline.
"Although the source of this product is not known, Equinor will investigate and further evaluate necessary actions, including mobilisation of suitable equipment and resources.
"We will remain in dialogue with local authorities and will revert with more details as soon once updated information is available."
In a statement released earlier this week, Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin criticised Equinor's seemingly slow response to the oil spill.
"After the passage of the storm there were rumours and reports on social media about an oil spill at the facility shortly after Dorian made landfall. When we arrived there several days later, we saw the spill, but there was no evidence or visible signs all those days later that efforts were being made to arrest the emission, contain the spill, recover the oil and remediate the area to avoid contamination of the water table which could trigger a public health crisis."
She also asked: "Is the water safe? What is the extent of the environmental damage?"