Heavy equipment mobilized by Heritage Petroleum continues containment of an oil spill in the South Oropouche lagoon and the Gordineau River.

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A second containment pond has been dug to stop the spread of an oil slick which has disturbed plant and aquatic life in the protected mangroves of the South Oropouche swamp.

But with the threat of rainfall, environmental activists are bracing for further damage inland as the oil spreads from the mangroves to the Duck Pond region in Woodland.

During an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, president of the South Oropouche Riverine Flood Action Group Edward Moodie called on the Environmental Management Authority to charge Heritage Petroleum for environmental breaches.

He said it was not true that the company had achieved 90 per cent containment of the oil.

“Today they brought in a bigger excavator. The second containment pond was dug before to bring back the oil which was spilt. Right now our major concern is the weather. If the rain falls heavy the oil will float and further contaminate the lagoon,” Moodie said.

Drone footage, he says, shows the oil a mere 200 feet away from the Duck Pond River, which drains into the St John’s River in Fyzabad. Duck Pond River runs parallel to the New Cut Channel and is the only freshwater river used by livestock farmers.

Moodie said even though there was 24-hour monitoring of the first containment pond, the oil managed to flow out from the first containment pool.

“Now they have dug a second pool at the side of the first one to get the oil spill to flow back. The soil and vegetation are contaminated. Vegetation should be removed and absorbent material should be placed and contaminated soil should be removed but this is not happening. Heritage cannot leave this up to nature to clean,” Moodie said.

He said the tide had pushed back the oil remnants onto the banks of the river.

“The contaminated leaves were picked off from the site but the soil was never treated,” Moodie said.

He expressed relief that thousands of new roots were shooting up from the mangroves.

Heritage responds

In a statement yesterday, Heritage said oil spill response operations were continuing in the Gordineau River in Woodland.

“After cutting the high grass and shrubs we discovered a swampy area where the water was covered by a light oil sheen. Immediate actions were taken to treat with this issue. It is possible that other surrounding areas may be similarly impacted, and the Company is making every effort to swiftly identify and address these areas, to minimize the impact on the community and the environment,” Heritage said.

The company said it was not a new spill.

The company said it had engaged in identification, verification and associated infrastructural and repair works in the vicinity of the spill.

“The 16” pipeline was immediately isolated, flushed and is currently free of hydrocarbon, both North and South of the Godineau River. Critical accessway was cleared for all necessary equipment to gain access to the affected area to effect clean-up and repair works to the previously inaccessible inland areas. All outstanding clean-up, maintenance and repair works are currently ongoing now that proper access is available to effectively progress works,” the company added.

Heritage said the clean-up and remediation of the watercourse were 90 per cent complete.

EMA says

The Environmental Management Authority says it is actively monitoring the oil spill in the Oropouche Lagoon.

Responding to calls for Heritage Petroleum to be charged for environmental breaches, the EMA said an investigation was currently underway.

In an email sent to Guardian Media in response to questions posed, the EMA said, it “continues to monitor the response plan undertaken by Heritage Petroleum in the aftermath of the oil spill in Woodland. In the EMA’s co-ordinating role, there is an active liaison with other relevant Government agencies, including the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries and the Institute of Marine Affairs, on the steps taken to address this spill incident, as well as in the conduct of collaborative site inspections,” the Authority said.

The EMA also revealed it has conducted routine visits to the incident site and continues to receive regular reports from the Incident Management Team, established under the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan.

“Until Heritage Petroleum completes its clean-up and containment, the EMA will continue to monitor the incident management on-site and will continue to coordinate with all relevant agencies and stakeholders involved.”

Asked whether there were any environmental breaches as it relates to the actual cleanup, the EMA said, “At this time, the EMA has to receive and compile all reports on the management of the incident. We will not speculate without the conduct of completed investigations and information.”