UN says there was a fuel leak at BPL on Abaco

Bahamas Power and Light’s (BPL) substation in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, sustained “substantial damage” that resulted in a fuel leak during Hurricane Dorian, a recent report by the United Nations (UN) revealed.

The report was released on November 22, 2019, by the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“The facility, which sustained substantial damage, hosts three diesel storage tanks,” it noted.

“As informed by BPL, each tank has a maximum capacity of 140,000 gallons. The tanks are closed on top. At the time of the site survey, on 13 September, a significant amount of fuel was found in the containment surrounding the tanks.

“This could have been caused either by continuous flow from the tank valves that may have been left open by fuel looters in the aftermath of the hurricane (when fuel was unavailable and a key priority) or by actual damage to the tanks/pipeline.”

It is unclear how much fuel was leaked into the surrounding areas.

The report noted that “a small wind-blown diesel fuel leak” occurred at the facility.

“The fuel was spilled from the containment into the surrounding environment, within the plant’s premises,” it read.

“The remaining quantity of diesel fuel, likely mixed with water, in the containment, posed a significant threat for further spilling given its exposure to wind and rain days ahead of a tropical storm forecast issued for 19-21 September.

“The facility is surrounded by forests. The operator informed that they did not have the capacity to intervene since they had pumps but no storage capacity, nor immediate capabilities for full inspection of the status of the tanks.”

The report noted that BPL identified the leak “early”.

It also said officials followed up the local representative for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Ministry of Environment, and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

As a result, the report noted there was “rapid intervention with support from the Dutch Military Forces to inspect the site and pump the fuel out of the containment into a non-compromised tank”.

This allowed for mitigation of risks and prevention of additional negative impacts, according to the report.

“Pumping operations started with rotational shifts put in place by the Dutch troops to ensure 24-hour coverage for [the] fastest execution of the task,” the report read.

“Pending full verification of any damage to the tanks/pipeline, fuel sludge was pumped into one of the tanks found to be uncompromised as a temporary measure ahead of the tropical storm forecast.”

Dorian ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September.

The Category 5 storm wreaked havoc on The Bahamas, causing $7.14 million in environmental damage and more than $27 million in environmental losses, according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The IDB also noted $102.47 million in additional environmental costs.

Some of those costs were associated with cleaning up an oil spill in East Grand Bahama.

According to the UN, as a result of the damage, BPL’s site was “effectively accessible to anyone”.

“At least one episode of fuel looting occurred during the interventions, showing the need to re-fence the area and instate a security guarding system to prevent further risks linked to uncontrolled and unsafe fuel handling,” the report noted.

“The operator was informed of the incident and suggested to follow-up. BPL also informed that neither the main power generation plant nor the other sub-stations had experienced any damage, with the exceptions of two sub-stations in Treasure Cay and Sandy Point, where tanks storing sludge may have been leaking. The company was dealing with this at the time of the mission.” 

The report recommended that the government develop an inventory of storing hazardous materials, “including emergency contact details of the operators as well as details on the type of substance, quantities and distance to closest communities, water bodies, protected areas and other environmental attributes”.

It also suggested the incorporation of “special considerations” into a national comprehensive disaster waste management strategy.

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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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