The EPA: Recent oil spills and prospective ones

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By Akola Thompson

THE Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has, over the years, been no stranger to criticism. Most of these criticisms over their inadequacies are, more often than not, rightfully earned as this agency continuously fails to uphold its own mandate.We saw another instance of the EPA’s failings recently in the case of the ‘inadvertent’ oil spill caused by Bosai Minerals Group (Guyana) Inc. Kiln 14. Quite naturally, the spill contaminated sections of the Demerara River and severely affected households in the area, especially those who depend on the water for their farming. Persons were reported in the media as saying that this is by no means the first instance of an oil spill in their area, and they are always the ones who lose out, as they are never compensated for their losses.

Meanwhile, while these residents continue to suffer due to Bosai’s constant failings, the EPA is still “determining the penalties to be issued against the company.”

Bosai has, over the years, breached many environmental regulations, with seemingly no or very little interference or penalties from the EPA. It can be argued that the EPA’s inability to properly sanction them is the reason why Bosai’s breaches, inadvertent or not, continue, and are dealt with casually.

It is for this reason that I am a bit worried about our lately discovered oil wealth by the oil giant ExxonMobil. As a country with a relatively poor GDP per capita of around $8000 annually, oil will surely put us on the path of becoming a developed nation.

However, one needs to consider the possible environmental dangers which usually come hand in hand with oil.

The current Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, in his 2012 budget speech, had commented upon the EPA and its inability to manage an oil spill in the event of one occurring. He commented upon this because, at the time, the EPA could not even properly manage the Bosai dust generation problem in Linden. He further made calls for the agency to be upgraded, to ensure that it would be capable of dealing with such issues when they arrive.

Oil spills have begun, although they are small ones at the moment; and the EPA, as Dr Roopnaraine predicted, is not capable of managing them. One should keep in mind that Bosai is a relatively small company compared to ExxonMobil, and their transgressions have been far less.

As a general principle, I view with slight suspicion anyone who does not believe in climate change, given that Exxon has, over the years, funded climate change denials despite being aware of the connection between “the burning of fossil fuels and climate change”.

I believe it is only right for us to view them with strong suspicion, especially given that we promote ourselves as a green economy.

Aside from funding climate change denials, Exxon, over the years, has had several major oil spills, caused by ruptured pipelines, and those have caused lasting effects on the ecosystems.

Exxon has even been accused of abusing human rights in Indonesia, not to mention that it was responsible for one of the largest oil spills in the United States of America after the ship’s hull was torn and 11 million gallons of oil were released into the environment. Up to this day, oil still remains in the areas where it has been spilt; and plant, land and marine life are still being affected.

Now, I am all for second chances, maybe even third or fourth ones; but Exxon seems to have a troubling pattern of destroying the environment in places where they operate. That reality, matched with the fact that the EPA currently does not have the capacity to enforce environmental regulations in the oil and gas sector nor monitor compliance with environmental regulations of the state, spells disaster for country.

In the interest of fairness, I should mention I was made aware that Exxon would soon be holding workshops and assisting with training for the EPA. This effort must be applauded, but the question must be asked: What substantive measures are being put in place to ensure that Exxon is compliant with our environmental regulations?

It has been about a year since the announcement of an oil find was made, but so far not much seems to be done to expand upon our capacity to protect our people or our country. The EPA still seems to be in that state of disinterest it was in several years ago, and while I understand the Government is ‘new’ and needs time, that argument is quickly losing its validity.