The bloated carcass of a caiman floating along a thick stream of oil in the New Cut Channel told a story of the ecological damage being done in the Woodland and South Oropouche communities yesterday.
Oyster harvesters and crab catchers were without stock as oil from pipelines passing through the river spilt out. Crabs struggled to move on the river banks while oil covered the oysters.
Late yesterday, the oil was moving towards the Gulf of Paria.
Fishermen said this was what they were dealing with for over four days and no one from the Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd visited the community.
They said the oil damaged their engines. With many of them living in Woodland, they usually berth their boats at the Sudama Teerath along Pluck Road and take the New Cut Channel into the Godineau River to and from the Gulf of Paria.
When they chose not to fish at sea, they would catch boché in the rivers, but the oil has also prevented this.
“The oil in the river is giving the fishermen and them trouble every day. It is the main river to go to work day and night. The fishermen, right now, are servicing their engines again. Every day they are servicing their engines because of this oil,” said a fisherman, only identified as “Juice”.
President of the South Oropouche Riverine Flood Action Group, Edward Moodie said they measured three miles of oil from the source of the spill to the last location they saw it flowing.
He said that as the tide rose, the river banks became saturated with oil. He called on Heritage to immediately deploy absorbent booms in the rivers before the oil reaches to the sea.
“All the areas where we have oysters and crabs, all the caimans we are accustomed to seeing here, there is not one. We picked up a lot of dead fiddler crabs, some of what we call the jumbie crabs have also died. The pneumatophore roots, what the mangroves use to breathe, they are aerial roots and all those roots are covered now with oil.
“We have some serious problems here, and the chain reaction will continue. We saw a dead caiman a little while back. As the birds come down to feed on the crustaceans that have died, they too will become contaminated, so we have a real environmental issue,” Moodie said.
In a media release, Heritage Petroleum said it received reports of an oil spill in the vicinity of the New Cut Channel, Woodland. Heritage Petroleum dispatched personnel to the site and found that the spill emanated from its 16-inch trunk pipeline.
Company personnel isolated the pipeline and began the process to clamp the leak.
“Heritage Petroleum is mobilizing all available resources, including the services of specialized oil spill response contractors to clean up the affected areas. A wildlife rescue, conservation and rehabilitation team was also engaged.
“Additionally, booms are being deployed along the Godineau River to restrict further spread downstream. The company is conducting ongoing surveillance to ensure the totality of the spill is contained.”
When Guardian Media contacted the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), managing director Hayden Romano said it was the first report he got and was checking the complaints hotline to see whether anyone called. Heritage Petroleum later notified the EMA, the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) and other regulatory agencies.