By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
FOUR weeks after Hurricane Dorian, Equinor still does not know how much oil was spilled from its South Riding Point facility in East Grand Bahama or the exact parameters of the land area that was affected, an official said.
Equinor has engaged an independent firm to monitor the area near for potential groundwater contamination and officials maintain they are heavily focused on getting clean-up done right.
On Friday, it was revealed that about 12,000 barrels of oil and water have been recovered by clean-up crews in response to the oil spill triggered by Hurricane Dorian.
Before the storm, the terminal had 1.8 million barrels of crude oil stored. However at a media briefing onsite nearly a month after the disaster, Equinor Operations Manager Kevin Stuart admitted that they still do not know the full extent of the impact.
Mr Stuart said an “independent certified” Bahamian firm, Geosyntec, has been contracted to investigate by drilling wells in the impacted area to monitor groundwater.
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 the island for about 40 hours.
Mr Stuart was confident on Friday that there was no spill to the ocean and that the incident occurred onshore, just north of their facility.
The event is being called “the worst disaster” ever in the company’s history.
Equinor’s oil-stained administrative building is no longer able to accommodate its 54 employees, who have been relocated to the Pelican Bay Resort at Port Lucaya.
“We have a situation in front of us; I call it an act of God – we have a spill – and we want to clean it up safely,” Mr Stuart said at the company’s command centre, located on board one of the mega response vessels docked at its terminal, equipped with a heli-pad and a 16-seater helicopter.
He said at the time of the storm, only three tanks contained crude oil. Storage tank number 8, which was not compromised, contained 410,178.91 barrels of oil. Of the two damaged storage tanks, number six contained 729,681.08 barrels and number ten contained 730,707.01 barrels.
“Right now, we cannot speak to volumes that was spilled because we just do not know. Two tanks damaged by tornadic activity, we cannot safely assess them to get volumes.
“We had 1.8 million barrels of product at the facility, and of the three tanks that contained oil, only two were compromised,” he explained. “So, obviously, there was a spill, but for me to see they are saying 1.8 million barrels was spilled, I can’t quantify it. I can only show you the facts. We cannot give out figures, but you can see 1.8 million barrels can’t be what was spilled.”
There are 13 vacuum trucks and a team of 250 responders from both international and local response organisations on the ground, company officials told reporters on Friday.
When The Tribune arrived at the facility, the top layer of the oil-soaked ground in the immediate area had been scraped up into a pile, and men in green florescent vests and suits were busy with clean up and monitoring on the ground.
East End has vast well fields that serve as a water supply to residents on Grand Bahama. Since the storm, however, water quality has been reduced significantly due to the widespread surge of sea water that flooded about 80 percent of the island on September 2.
Mr Stuart indicated that ground water contamination is a concern with any oil spill that occurs on land.
“I know it is a concern for everyone, and to us. So, we will investigate the groundwater around the area impacted. We have already identified the area of interest where we want to continue to monitor,” he said.
He said the investigation could take between one to three months as determined.
“We have an independent contractor Geosyntec from the Bahamas that will drill to investigate groundwater contamination. So, it won’t be us determining that. We have an independent certified Bahamian company that will do that,” said Mr Stuart.
“But our plan is to restore groundwater wells along the areas that were affected. That is very important; they will... monitor the water all around the area impacted.”
Mr Stuart said that clean-up is paramount to the company.
He assured government that “special waste” - free standing oil - taken up from the road will be exported from the country to a proper disposal facility.
Any contaminated metal will be cleaned on-site, contaminated debris will be shredded, and contaminated water will be held in retention pots, he said.
When questioned about the actual size of the area affected, a response official said: “We do not have the exact kilometres impacted, but we are dealing with it and we will have a better assessment when we go in the air, and as time goes on we will be able to determine that.”
It took Equinor several says after the spill to get to the affected areas.
Mr Stuart said that access by road was impossible right after the storm, but their strike team was able to assess the situation at the facility by helicopter.
Assessments are continuing daily.
“We have constant surveillance going on now by air, ship, and by foot. We have numerous flyovers all across Grand Bahama today (Friday), and there is not any evidence of oil hitting the water.
“. . .We have continued to survey the area, our families live here and this is important to us. The key for us is to get it right,” vowed Mr Stuart.
A Wildlife Response Unit was set up on the compound where an expert reported that they were tending to two birds that were affected by the spill. The team is still trying to locate and capture five other birds and a goat that were also affected.
A team of expert responders gave a brief update of their findings at the site.
They are only detecting “low levels of VOCs” (volatile organic compounds). No btex compounds - benzene, toluene, ethyl, or xylene - have been detected, according to an expert at the facility.
“We are not seeing any actionable levels; we are monitoring inside the containment berms of the tanks and the roadway, Grand Bahama Highway, from check point to check point,” said one company representative.
The representative indicated that the substances they were most concerned about are benzene and volatile hydrocarbons.
“The good thing about the warm weather and the wind is that it tends to evaporate and disappears quickly so the measurements we have done show very favourable outcome,” he reported.
He also said that they have not seen any actionable levels to require respiration protection at this point.
The company has contracted two independent assessment firms as part of the clean-up: Polaris and Oil Spill Responders Ltd.