Geological Society of TT
“A missed opportunity.” This is how quarrying has been characterised in the TT Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative’s (TTEITI) State of the Extractive Sectors 2021 Report. This statement and others made therein, sound a crescendo in the symphony of negative publicity surrounding the industry in past decades.
While it may seem that quarrying is not a prominent feature impacting the nation or the day-to-day goings-on of Trinbagonians, many of the comforts and lamentations that we experience tie into the sector – think paved or unpaved roads, reasonably priced building materials or having a beer with friends. Perhaps the indifference stems from the fact that the oil and gas sector has been, and continues to be, the primary revenue-generating extractive industry of TT, dwarfing the minerals sector in both scope and scale.
The CSO’s 2007 Report on Environmental Statistics set out that the combined construction and quarrying industry accounted for approximately $22.5 billion of GDP in the five-year period between 2000 and 2004, or 7.5 per cent of GDP generated for the same period. This made it the fourth highest in that period behind petroleum, distribution and finance/insurance/real estate.
More recent figures, from 2012-2021, show a steady decline in yearly contributions of the combined sector. The TTEITI report highlighted losses due to unpaid royalties of an estimated $193 million spanning from as far back as 2005. Further estimates indicate that over $800 million may be owed to the government in taxes and other revenue.
While statistics show that other sectors generate more direct revenue, it would be remiss to consider this the sole measurement of the industry’s importance. A more nuanced assessment can shed light on the socio-economic stimulation rooted in the construction and building materials manufacturing sectors, which rely heavily on raw material inputs derived from quarrying.
To this end, it is necessary to highlight the far-reaching and integrative scope of participants in the minerals sector tasked with carrying out said quarrying activities. Areas such as mineral exploration, mineral exploitation (mining or quarrying), mineral processing, the manufacturing of mineral-based products, mineral trading (import and export), transportation and machinery (supply, sales and other services), land management (including land rehabilitation) and other professional services such as consulting, management, accounting, surveying, geological, engineering, legal and financial, which are all crucial to the sector’s overall functioning.
Which begs the question, what is quarried in TT and what is it used for? As for active quarrying, in Trinidad’s Northern Range, “blue” limestone of the Maracas and Maraval formations are blasted and extracted for use in various applications such as concrete, cement, cement blocks, agricultural lime, shoreline defence, roadworks, landscaping, and architectural deco-stone.
Terrace sediments, a term referring to the naturally occurring interbedded deposits of sand, gravel and clay, which are quarried at the foot of the Northern Range in the northeast of Trinidad, represent prolific construction aggregate deposits in that region, spanning Arima to Matura and encompassing Sangre Grande, Cumuto and Valencia. These sediments are separated using rudimentary trommel washplants in smaller operations, or more sophisticated “separating” plants in commercial operations such as Trinidad Cement Ltd’s processing facility. Products are sold as single-size aggregate or mixed aggregate and are utilised in the construction sector as a sub-base (foundation) for roads, raw material for concrete, fill material and finishing materials in construction, among other uses.
Limestone of the Maraval formation being used in roadworks as a base material before the application of asphalt.
The limestone deposits of the Northern Range can be interpreted as ancient reefal assemblages which underwent uplift and metamorphosis during the formation of the Northern Range, whilst terrace sediments were deposited due to a combination of proto-Caribbean sea level rise, uplift, and erosion of the Northern Range itself.
In Central Trinidad, Pleistocene sea-level changes and resultant deposition led to concentrations of “plastering” sand of the Sum Sum sand member, which is quarried and used as a low-grade fill material and as a construction finishing material. Yellow limestone of the Tamana formation, locally known as Guaracara limestone, is also quarried in the Central region, and used in road construction and the manufacture of Portland cement.
In the southern region, “oil sand” and asphalt have been quarried extensively for decades.
Clay, which according to the Ministry of Energy is the most abundant and extensively utilised non-petroleum raw material, is found throughout TT, and is extracted and primarily used in the production of blocks, tiles, and pottery.
In Tobago, andesite is blasted and extracted at the Studley Park Quarry where it is processed into single-sized and mixed aggregate used in roadworks, construction, shoreline defence and many other applications in Tobago, Trinidad and throughout the region.
The number of quarries within the sector was highlighted by the chairman of the TTEITI Steering Committee, Gregory Maguire, who, during a March 2022 webinar addressing challenges in the mining sector, indicated that “there are 88 known quarries, with only eight being fully licensed.”
These critical contributions to the overall growth and development of our society do not mean that the minerals sector is without challenges. Cursory investigations of published media on the sector reveal instances of death threats, arrests and equipment seizures, interspersed with interventions made by police, governmental and regulatory bodies, along with attempts to address climate-related and environmental challenges faced in the industry.
The Green Paper on Minerals Policy compiled by the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI) in 2014 highlighted less-than-acceptable health and safety standards and practices in the sector.
Low sector-specific education and training levels of participants, outdated regulations coupled with an absence of effective enforcement mechanisms in the Minerals Act failed to address illegal mining and ineffective royalty computation and collection frameworks.
In the October 2022 budget, the Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, stated, “Illegal quarrying not only cheats the state of revenue, but it encourages criminal activity and poses a clear and present danger to the environment.”
Over the years, the spread of illegal quarrying has become increasingly difficult to monitor, owing in part to the incredible ease with which such operations can be established in remote locations with just machinery, trucks, and an unskilled workforce staffed primarily by surrounding residents for whom alternative suitable employment may not be attainable. These considerations create a cycle that disincentivises reporting to the relevant authorities, thus perpetuating an ongoing dilemma.
Environmental challenges also plague the sector, primarily due to the lack of rehabilitation efforts among existing and defunct quarries, illegal deforestation and squatting, which are areas of concern being monitored at this time owing to their impact on biodiversity and habitat loss.
With regard to climate change and access to fresh water, there are also crucial indicators to be monitored. The vast majority of construction aggregate is produced from quarries in northeast Trinidad, an area that also receives the nation’s highest volume of yearly rainfall, making it a critical watershed for the replenishment of nearby aquifers.
Quarrying, both legal and illegal. disturbs the naturally occurring hydrostatic pressures that support the flow of water into important aquifers, and has led to a marked reduction in water production from nearby wells over the last few decades, as identified by researchers who have been studying the phenomenon.
While understanding the state of affairs in the sector is necessary, it is equally important to shed light on the positive developments since the publication of the green paper. Several initiatives have been undertaken by the MEEI to rectify the issues identified, which include amendments to the Minerals Act that introduced increased fines and penalties to act as a deterrent for illegal quarrying, and moves toward implementation of drone technology to assist in resource characterisation, quantification of reserves, monitoring of state and other lands as well as computation of royalties.
The imposition of even heavier penalties for such environmentally dangerous and illicit activities is also an intention; Mr Imbert announced, “Further legislative amendments will be introduced to allow the State to levy on, seize and forfeit equipment found on-site at illegal quarries” in the budget statement. Such amendments should be introduced in Parliament in early 2023.
The eastern division of the Police Service has also partnered with the multi-agency task force with an aim to eradicate illegal quarrying with several successful operations being carried out in recent months.
The collaborative work being undertaken within the minerals industry must also be highlighted. Efforts by governmental and non-governmental organisations (such as the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), Integrating Water Land and Ecosystems Management TT (IWECOTT), VetiverTT and the #IAM Movement – with funding and assistance from the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) small grants programme) have developed programmes geared towards educating practitioners, comprising mainly unemployed and underemployed women of surrounding communities in rehabilitation theory and practice.
The ecosystem for growth and development of the sector into a significant revenue-earner for the state and a job-creation mechanism in the environmental, geotechnical and construction industries is critical to turning a new page on quarrying.
As we look forward to more positive developments in the future, it is critical for those in civil society, non-governmental and community organisations to continue to participate in education, partnerships and engagement efforts that identify and highlight the intrinsic value of this sector to our everyday lives.
Follow the Geological Society of TT on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and check out https://thegstt.org/