Group claims wetlands impacted by oil spill

An environmental consortium claimed yesterday that traces of heavy-grade fuel oil were found in wetlands near the Equinor facility in East Grand Bahama.

But Equinor said last night that it won’t comment on any “independent testing”.

The facility, owned and operated by Equinor, was damaged during Hurricane Dorian, the strongest storm on record to impact The Bahamas.

The damage resulted in a spill of thousands of barrels of oil in the nearby area.

Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas toured Equinor’s South Riding Point facility on October 8 – more than a month after the spill.

“The Bahamas oil spill during Hurricane Dorian contaminated water in critical wetland habitat, including an area more than one mile away from the spill, according to sampling done by Waterkeepers Bahamas, Save the Bays and Waterkeeper Alliance,” the organizations said in a statement.

“The groups took water samples at five locations near the Equinor/STATOIL spill, sending 54 individual water samples to environmental chemists, a certified water testing lab in Wilmington, North Carolina. The water sample analysis shows distinct petroleum constituents, including alkanes, terpenes and organic acid.”

In response, Equinor said it met with environmental activists “who indicated that they were pleased with Equinor’s level of transparency and commitment to clean up in a safe and environmentally friendly manner”.

“Both environmental entities have been invited to monthly tours and or updates and the formation of a partnership that will involve students,” the company said.

During his contribution in the House of Assembly yesterday, Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira noted that 175 of 4,000 acres of forest that had been surveyed were confirmed to have been “impacted in some way by crude oil”.

He said that 35,000 barrels of oil had already been recovered.

Christian Breen, a field investigator for Waterkeeper Alliance, described the results as “well beyond what would be naturally occurring”.

“The sample profile is distinct and consistent with the make-up of heavy-grade fuel oil, which is not supposed to be there,” Breen said.

Equinor has noted that the oil spill accounted for roughly 119,000 barrels or “around six percent of the total 1.88 million barrels stored”.

“Most of the spilled volumes are within or near the terminal area,” it said in a statement on October 9.

“More of the oil will be recovered over the coming weeks as work progresses to empty containment berms surrounding the tanks.

“Equinor is committed to cleaning up. Plans for how to address the outside area are being matured and executed in close dialogue with the Bahamian government.”

Dorian blew the roofs off several of those tanks, distributing oil across the acreage of the property and into the neighboring forest.

There were concerns that oil might have been blown into the ocean, though that has not been proven.

The environmental groups claimed that “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”.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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