Marabella residents to NiQuan: ‘Meet us before restarting plant’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Marabella residents Riyad Sanichar, holding his daughter Mikayla, and Indra Sookram speaking with Newsday reporter Laurel V Williams on Saturday about NiQuan’s plans to restart its plant in Pointe-a-Pierre. – Lincoln Holder

Residents of the fenceline community of Marabella want NiQuan Energy Ltd to meet with them before restarting its gas-to-liquids plant in Pointe-a-Pierre.

In November, the company announced that the plant is set to be brought back up to full commercial operation for the “first quarter of 2022”, which ends this month. Next month marks one year since an explosion at the plant.

Resident Indra Sookram believes it is critical to keep residents informed.

“Open communication is important. Employment-wise, I am hoping the company restarts operations because my husband would get work. He is a plant fitter. I will be happy that he gets work. The community would be grateful for a day’s work,” Sookram told Sunday Newsday.

She said since the closure of Petrotrin in 2018, coupled with the pandemic and NiQuan’s blast on April 7 last year, many residents have lost their jobs.

On April 7, the plant’s hydrocracker system failed during an attempted startup, resulting in a loud explosion heard and felt in several parts of south Trinidad. The Prime Minister opened the plant a month earlier, on March 8.

The plant is on the compound of the now-defunct Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.

Sookram’s home is separated from the plant by a fence and the “bad-smelling” Guaracara river.

Like many nearby Marabella residents, Sookram said the community has become quiet since the explosion.

“We have been living in silence. Ever since, the area is noisy because of the company’s operations. We have grown accustomed to the noise,” she said.

Another resident Riyad Sanichar also called for the company to meet with residents before restarting operations. He raised concerns about the functionality of the plant’s equipment.

The NiQuan plant in Pointe-a-Pierre where operations are expected to resume by the end of this month, a year after an explosion at the site. – File photo

“”We (residents) don’t know what to expect once the plant returns because it has been down for so long,” Sanichar said.

“I think the company should meet with us and let us know what is going on. We hope they are trying their best because we do not want any more explosions.”

A woman interjected, saying: “In this age of technology, it should not be hard for them (NiQuan) to communicate with us. They could pass around with a mike, call us or email us. All we want is an assurance that things are ok.”

Another resident Daniel Mootoo welcomes the plant’s restart, saying it will create much-needed employment for residents.

Mootoo said, “People want work, so I have no problem with the plant restarting. Compared to previous years, Marabella is now like a ghost town because as soon as the place gets dark, the place is dead.”

A statement from NiQuan in November said the company has been “working assiduously” to restart the plant. It also said it has been working with all the regulatory bodies like the Energy & Energy Industries Ministry, the Occupational Safety and Health Authority and Agency (OSHA), the Environmental Management Authority and others.

Three months after the blast, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, Malcolm Wells, said in a Newsday interview the investigation had been completed and the company had “applied the recommended mitigation measures.”

No details were provided on the findings.

Members of the Southern Marines Steelband Foundation based at the Southern Main Road, Marabella also expressed concerns about the impending restart of the plant.

Speaking on behalf of the band on Saturday, member Gerry Kangalee told Sunday Newsday by phone that the band has “two demands.” One is for the completed investigative report to be published so that anyone can have access to it, for instance, via the company’s website.

The other is for the company and other related agencies to meet with the community to discuss all matters to reassure them that the restart does not threaten the safety and security of residents, workers, and visitors.

He said members of the fenceline community want to feel satisfied that all precautionary measures are in place before the restart.

Kangalee asked, “Have risk assessments and hazard analysis been done to ensure safe start-up?”

When Sunday Newsday visited the band’s camp, it was closed.

On Thursday, the band issued a statement on the plant’s restart.

It said, “The Southern Marines Steelband Foundation insists that the plant must not be restarted and calls on the people of Marabella to hold firm to that position so that their safety and security will not be compromised.”