Guyana: OIL: EPA’s response to suspected ‘oil spill’ exposes lack of capacity – Opinion

Dr. Troy Thomas

Dec 07, 2021 News – Kaieteur News

 “…If the EPA is taking one week to find the location and determine whether the substance found floating in the water is really crude oil, in the meantime, we can be facing consequences that are colossal…The EPA definitely needs to do better.”

—people have the right to be worried– Dr. Troy Thomas

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) response to the recent reports of ‘oily substance’ found floating offshore in Guyana’s waters, not only exposes the agency’s lack of capacity with regard to monitoring the country’s oil operations, but points to a need for proper surveillance in this regard.

This is the view of Guyanese Scientist and University Lecturer, Dr. Troy Thomas, who yesterday weighed in on the development, some 72 hours after a video circulated online, depicting an ‘oily film’ floating in some sections of Guyana’s waters.
The video has since prompted a response from the National Oil Spill Committee (NOSC), as well as the EPA, with the latter agency promising to get to the bottom of the issue.

Dr. Thomas in an invited comment noted however, that reactive stance of EPA to the oil drilling operations, “in the event of oil spill, is certainly not good enough.”

He was adamant, “we should not be relying on the informal reports from persons, a team should be there patrolling and reporting to the agency. So, the EPA should be the one telling us, what is happening, not the fisher folk…” Dr. Thomas asserted.

He noted that while the authorities have been asking citizens to reserve judgment on the issue, people have every right to be concerned about the reports.
“The people are very much within their right to be concerned because we are all aware of the dangers of oil spills and have witnessed the damage it can do, when we look at what has happened, globally. So when I think about how devastating an oil spill can be, the people have the right to be worried.”

Commenting on the length of time that Guyana’s response team is taking to locate the affected area, Dr. Thomas said, this only puts the nation at risk, “if indeed the situation is as serious as an oil leakage.”

At present, he stressed, the response team is starting on a back foot. “If the EPA is taking one week to find the location and determine whether the substance found floating in the water is really crude oil, in the meantime, we can be facing consequences that are colossal. The EPA definitely needs to do better,” he stated.

Thomas continued: “I really don’t know what else to say, except that the administration needs to put more resources into boosting the capacity of the EPA in terms of surveillance of what is happening in our waters.”

While boosting the monitoring capacity of the State is important, Dr. Thomas suggested that some citizen organisations, can also assist in terms of vigilance of the offshore operations, “…because at this point, from a personal stance, I have some level of distrust for what the agencies are telling.”
He suggested, “it would be a good initiative for a citizens’ group to step up and fill the gap where the State agencies are falling short,” he added.

PHOTO: A screen grab of the video depicting the oily film floating offshore.

Last Friday, fishermen operating in the Atlantic Ocean offshore Guyana told Kaieteur News of their growing concerns over what they described as an oily film floating at different points of the water.

The substance has since been leading many in the fishing industry to believe that the oil companies might be covering up a possible oil spill.
According to the reports, received by this publication from a number of fisher folks operating from Essequibo to Berbice, the oil floating in the water could possibly be the cause for the decline in their fish catch.

The black oily substance could be seen as close to the coast in the vicinity of the Anna Regina koker in Region Two; in the Berbice and the Essequibo Coast.
This publication has since been provided with a number of video footage captured by different individuals from various points in Guyana’s EEZ where the fishermen would ply their trade. The report comes even as fisherfolk have been reporting a decline in their catch; something they believe is as a result of the oil drilling operations happening offshore.

NOSC, which comprises of a local disaster response management team, has since launched an investigation into the reports.

An official close to the team, disclosed to Kaieteur News on Saturday that while preliminary investigations have started, it is too soon for the team to get any feedback or confirmation on where the oil substance came from.

“… It is too soon to tell whether it comes from commercial crude operations or not. We are hoping that by Monday [yesterday], we have more solid information on what it is,” the source told Kaieteur News.

In the meantime, the EPA which launched its own investigation into the matter issued a statement promising that it will get to the bottom of the reports.
When contacted yesterday, EPA Director Kemraj Parsram said, the agency has not been able to get any definitive word on the location where ‘oily substance’ was seen floating.

According to Parsram, the EPA is leaning on the assistance from international partners for satellite images of the Atlantic Sea about 45 miles offshore Mahaica, East Coast Demerara, to determine the cause of the reported pollution.

Parsram revealed that the agency has engaged in both airborne surveillance as well as the use of a fishing vessel to try and locate the area but the search was unsuccessful.
“We covered the entire fishing zone within the 45-mile radius and, using our understanding of the currents, I didn’t see anything that resembled anything that was reported and because of the high waves and conditions and the safety of the staff, they had to return to shore,” he said

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