Imbert on Fyzabad oil leak: Residents built a garage over pipeline

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A Heritage Petroleum Co Ltd worker on Monday inspects an oil pipeline which ruptured at Masahood Village, Fyzabad on Sunday. – Marvin Hamilton

The acting Prime Minister has urged state-owned Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd to do its best going forward to stop people from building structures over pipelines.

Colm Imbert, also the Finance Minister, made the comment on Tuesday in the Senate saying the family most affected by Sunday’s oil leak in Fyzabad had built a garage on top of the 16-inch trunk oil line that ruptured.

“In this case, residents constructed a garage on top of the pipeline. In all of these situations, one has to balance the rule of law with the effect on the community. But I will urge Heritage (personnel) in the future to do their best to stop any person who is building a property or a structure on top of a pipeline in an unlawful manner,” Imbert said.

He added that in 2022, Heritage contacted the family to desist from constructing a structure over the pipeline along the pipeline’s “clearly demarcated right of way.”

Imbert, who also “filled in” for the Energy and Energy Affairs Minister, Stuart Young, was responding to questions from Opposition Senator Wade Mark regarding measures to deal with the spill and to prevent future incidents. The Prime Minister and Young are in the US.

Imbert said he was advised that at about 6.40 pm on Sunday, Heritage responded to the leaks observed on the pipeline right of way at Masahood Village.

“This was an in-service pipeline. The leak was located below a garage that was constructed by the owner between two houses over the pipeline on the right of way. The leaks were isolated within hours,” Imbert said.

The affected families, comprising about 20 people, were relocated to Paria Suites Hotel in La Romaine.

“The intention is for Heritage to provide for all aspects of their accommodation and care until the clean-up activities have been completed and the environment is safe,” Imbert said.

“To treat the oil spill, Heritage has pumped the line and repaired the leaks. The line will be subsequently hydro-tested to determine fitness for service. This cross-island pipeline network is approximately 30 years old and over 80,000 kilometres in length.”

Imbert said a full pipeline inspection and replacement programme has been ongoing for the last two years and will continue until completed.

He said 800,000 feet of pipeline had already been inspected, and over 50,000 feet of pipeline replaced.

“Inspection of the above-ground pipeline is much easier to execute and very advanced using non-destructive testing techniques. But underground pipeline can only be inspected by excavation which is particularly difficult when persons have built structures over the pipeline,” Imbert said.

“The Heritage incident management team remains on site and continues to manage the response. There are several crews on site dealing with the clean-up. The Environmental Management Authority and the ministry have been informed and will continue to provide updates as required.”

Mark was not satisfied with the responses and repeated the questions.

Imbert replied, “He is famous for asking questions already asked and answered.”

Imbert then repeated what he said about inspected and replaced pipelines.

On Tuesday, residents said more people were evacuated to the hotel overnight on Monday.

“More families were evacuated and are staying in the hotel. Heritage is providing meals — breakfast, lunch, dinner. We are comfortable here in terms of the service we are getting,” Sareeta Ali said by phone.

From what she was told, someone with co-morbidities complained about the fumes, and ambulance personnel were contacted.

Some residents claimed the lines were “about 100 years old.”