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Workers walk along the Southern Main Road, Marabella, after their workplace in Tropical Plaza was evacuated following the explosion at the Ni Quan plant, in Petrotrin, Point-a-Pierre, yesterday.

The Opposition United National Congress is demanding a full probe into yesterday’s explosion at the NiQuan Energy (Gas-to-Liquids) plant.

“Ministers of Energy and Labour Franklin Khan and Stephen McClashie must launch an immediate investigation through the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) and must ensure there’s a full suspension of all activities,” said Opposition MP Rudy Indarsingh following the early morning explosion.

Plant sources said it is believed the explosion involved a stripper column within the hydrocracking “skid” unit of NiQuan’s plant on the former Petrotrin refinery’s Pointe- a-Pierre compound. The purpose of the Hydrocracker Unit is to convert wax produced in the facility to a high-quality diesel product.

Workers, who preferred not to be named, said night shift crews were leaving when the explosion occurred.

They said special operators were subsequently sent in to shut down the plant to deal with wax in the pipeline that may have contributed to the blast. The situation caused massive traffic jams between Marabella and Point-a- Pierre.

Indarsingh added, “This plant was the infamous World GTL plant built under the late Malcolm Jones. The public is owed information on who are the primary movers and shakers behind this plant. Minister Khan through his Ministry as regulator of this energy asset must reveal whether there was rigid collaboration and sign off with Labour through OSHA before its formal opening.”

“I shudder to think what would have happened if the refinery was operating. Did the regulatory and oversight authorities and agencies turn a blind eye to the OSHA risks – which became obvious a few days ago when erratic flares emanated from the facility- because persons behind this plant are highly connected politically to people in Government?” Indarsingh said.

Meanwhile, Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee added, “I’m extremely grateful none of my constituents in the surrounding communities of Marabella and environs experienced injuries or property damage. When Petrotrin was in operation, people were guaranteed assistance with healthcare in the event of a crisis. Today we’re unsure of any assistance from NiQuan in the event of an emergency.”

Lee added, “There’s also need for Independent Safety Specialists to ascertain the safety of NiQuan’s operations in relation to other plants on the Petrotrin compound as well as risks posed to the community. Even though the refinery’s been mothballed, NiQuan must immediately undertake and present the findings of a transparent review of the safety of its operations on the Petrotrin compound.

“For weeks we’ve heard about significant issues at the plant with media reports confirming it faced serious production issues. NiQuan is a clear example of Government’s Big Talk /No results policy. Only on March 9 the Prime Minister heralded that it was ‘ a triumph, a resounding success.”

The MP added,” Answers are needed on why Government is so invested in NiQuan. It’s damning Government has given NiQuan this plant at a peppercorn rate despite millions being spent to build it, Government has agreed to buy all their offtake and also offered them guaranteed supply of gas. But Proman is being forced to shut down plants due to shortage of gas.”

“Boom” shook residents

The explosion’s “boom” shook, startled and scared residents downwind, as far north as California and beyond San Fernando.

A Palmiste resident who was in the bathroom at 6.30 am told Guardian Media, “I thought it was a transformer exploding!”

A Rushworth Street resident said the same.

Officials of Tropical Plaza – opposite the refinery -said the Plaza didn’t suffer broken glass or similar damage, only ash blowing from the explosion affected one area. Officials were evacuated but were subsequently allowed to return and do inspections.

“Pope” Amin of Amin’s Roti shop in Marabella told Guardian Media, “It was a big, big noise which shook our building like the large earthquakes we’ve had in Trinidad and Tobago. We were the only business place open when the explosion happened, luckily others were closed.”

Kelvin Harnanan (onetime vice president of Petrotrin’s refinery) who lives nearby added, “It sounded like a very heavy steel door slamming shut.”

A Plaisance Park resident said the chandelier fell and broke.

Battoo Avenue, Marbella residents said glasses broke.

“My body jerked with the impact,” added another Marabella resident.

Call for residents to be compensated

The Confederation of Regional Business Chambers said, “It’s deeply troubling to witness this most disastrous occurrence in such a short time since the NiQuan plant’s commissioning. If damage is inflicted on residents’ properties, the onus is on NETL to compensate them. “We call for a full investigation by qualified professionals into this. The plant should temporarily halt operations until the investigation is completed and a final report is submitted.”