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Some of the damage caused by the explosion of the hydrocracker at NiQuan’s Gas-to-Liquids Plant, yesterday.

Renuka Singh

The Ministry of Energy has officially launched its investigation into Wednesday’s explosion and subsequent fire at the Niquan Energy Gas-To-Liquids plant in Pointe-a-Pierre.

In a release yesterday, the Energy Ministry said it had appointed a technical team to begin the probe. The team has been mandated to establish the facts of the incident and conduct a thorough investigation of the factors that contributed to the explosion.

The technical team is also expected to “review the adequacy of existing controls and procedures, make recommendations which could reduce future risks and prevent recurrences and prepare a final report” which will be delivered to the Minister of Energy Franklin Khan and other key stakeholders.

The team will be headed by Senior Petroleum Engineer and Acting Head Petroleum Operations Management Division Craig Boodoo and include acting Senior Chemical Engineer Yashi Carrington, Mechanical Engineer II Sean Mahabir, Petroleum Inspector III Omattee Mathura, Mechanical Engineer Neisha Dipnarine and Chemical Engineer Shazil Yarsien.

The ministry said additionally, the services of “subject matter experts would be used as may be required.”

“The team will submit a final report in the shortest possible time frame,” the release said.

The Energy Ministry said that it, alongside the Occupational Health and Safety Authority and Agency and the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service will also be conducting independent investigations.

“Operations at NiQuan Energy will only resume after approval from these agencies,” the ministry said.

But NiQuan itself is still not pushing to restart any time soon.

In response to questions from Guardian Media yesterday, the company said any updates will be issued formally but said it had increased support for its staff.

“The team remains professional and focused on the job,” VP of Corporate Affairs Malcolm Wells said.

In an interview on CNC3’s The Morning Brew yesterday meanwhile, former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine said industrial plants are always high-risk environments and he was glad the explosion was “brought under control.”

Ramnarine also expressed concern about the fenceline communities.

“Naturally the fenceline communities would be concerned for their safety, I don’t think there is an immediate threat to the fenceline communities,” he said.

The fenceline communities include areas like Marabella, Vistabella and Gasparillo.

He said with the threat neutralised, the real concern now was when the plant will be re-opened, as they have investors to pay. Ramnarine said NiQuan obviously depends on a cash flow to operate and has to repay its owner lenders, which include one major local bank

“Paying back that loan is dependent on a cash flow, which is dependent on an operating plant. That bank would be concerned, the lenders would be concerned about that plant recommencing operations,” he said.

Ramnarine also said the NiQuan explosion happened at a time when plants in Point Lisas find it difficult carry on.

Also on the programme was another former energy minister Conrad Enill, who is currently at the helm of the National Gas Company (NGC). He too weighed in on the NiQuan situation.

“The very first thing you learn when you get into the energy business is that safety is the most important thing in the sector,” Enill said.

He said the incidents happen despite the best operations in the world.

“In the sector, while there is a recognition that these things occur, you basically make sure that your organisation focuses on two things, one is safety and the other is asset integrity,” he said.

The assets or infrastructure, he added, must always operate optimally.

He said energy workers must be properly trained as well to reduce the exposure to incidents.

Khan corrects Lee’s inaccuracies

Energy Minister Franklin Khan is defending the start-up date of NiQuan Energy against attacks from Member of Parliament for Pointe-a-Pierre David Lee.

In a media release yesterday, Khan said he was seeking to rectify what he says are “inaccuracies” on Lee’s part as it concerns the NiQuan explosion and its deal with the State.

Khan said Lee incorrectly attributed the sale of Petrotrin GTL assets to NiQuan to the People’s National Movement (PNM) government and that the Government agreed to buy all of NiQuan’s off-take.

“The Member for Pointe-a-Pierre is well aware that it was under the People’s Partnership Government that the sale was executed and that all terms and conditions, except for the supply of gas, were finalised,” Khan said.

Khan said the decision to sell the GTL assets had the approval of the People’s Partnership.

Khan said NiQuan responded to an RFP in April 2012, when the PP was in power. He said it was in October 2014 that the board appointed by the same PP government accepted NiQuan as the preferred bidder.

“When the project was at a standstill in 2016, this Government reviewed it and determined that it was worthy of support, given the financial benefits that would accrue to the Government and the wider economy,” Khan said.

Khan said that Lee was highly critical of the project despite the fact that NiQuan had an expenditure of more than US$125 million and created jobs in construction.

“The Member for Pointe-a-Pierre, instead of vilifying the management of NiQuan, should be complementing the company for reviving the project,” Khan said.

He said the UNC rhetoric was that for the UNC to succeed, Trinidad and Tobago had to fail.

“The UNC just does not want to see T&T flourish,” Khan said.