OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health


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Whilst our first blog based on Bad Neighbours was understandable and relatable, this, our second blog highlights many unexplainable reasons as to why oil companies fail to implement measures to curb negative effects of their operations.It can easily be said that they do not want to waste time to act cautiously when profits can be made within that same period of time. In turn many losses are incurred and it is only then that they realise their mistakes.

Everyone is familiar with the infamous incident caused by oil company British Petroleum (BP). It was documented as the largest offshore oil spill in U.S history. It occurred on the evening of 20 April 2010, a gas release and subsequent explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig working on the Macondo exploration well for BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

115 workers were evacuated and eleven people lost their lives because of the accident while 17 others were injured. The fire burned for 36 hours before the rig sank leaking hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico. As the rig sank, it led to a well integrity failure, followed by a loss of hydrostatic control of the well. This was followed by a failure to control the flow from the well with the blowout preventer (BOP) equipment, which allowed the release and subsequent ignition of hydrocarbons. Eventually, the BOP emergency functions failed to seal the well after the initial explosions.

The spill had a duration of 87 days, which lead to more than 200 million gallons of oil entering the Gulf of Mexico. The oil which leaked from the well affected a total of 100 miles of coastline in states such as, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The well was eventually capped in July of 2010, but oil is till washing up on shores today.

However, BP is no stranger to oil spills as there was a previous oil spill in 2006, when it was cited for leaking around 4,800 barrels of oil into Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, because of a corroded stretch of pipeline. BP was fined US $20 million, for ignoring opportunities to prevent the spill since they were warned four years earlier about the corroded pipe but did nothing to prevent its failure. Another incident which occurred in 2005 was a massive explosion at their Texas City, Texas, refinery, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others. The company was fined $87 million for negligence.

Whoever lives in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago and hasn’t heard of the many outrageous oil spills of state-owned company Petrotrin should familiarize themselves with this blog or rather step out of their comfort zones. The Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago had a series of spills occurring in the state, a total of eleven between December 17th and 29th 2013.

The first spill began on December 17th 4:45 am when a 16-inch sea-line, No 10, ruptured at the bottom of the Gulf of Paria near the company’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery spilling more than 7000 barrels of fuel into the sea making it the largest spill in the history of Trinidad and Tobago.[1] An investigation conducted by six Petrotrin employees including a member from the Oilfields Workers Trade Union reported that four of the eleven leaks were related to companies which have joint ventures with Petrotrin. A weld leak was developed on December 17 on No 10 Sea Line which was said to be caused by a failed chain support not apparently defective during previous routine inspections.  The leak was discovered at Petrotrin Pointe-a-Pierre Port during fuel oil bunkers loading operations for the barge Marabellla.  Another spill occurred on December 17th 2013 in Point Fortin, when a gasket on a 16-inch line on Riser Platform 5 in Main Field area leaked and oil spilled into the sea. The company received reports on December 19th 2013 of oil at the Coffee Beach/Carrat Shed Beach areas in La Brea, another oil leak was reported in the area of Platform 17 in Petrotrin’s Marine Operations East Field in Point Fortin. On December 21st 2013, an oil leak was reported from lease operators Trinity Exploration and Production where two 3-inch bull plugs were discovered removed from two separate wellsite production tanks resulting in approximately one hundred barrels of oil being discharged into the environment. Other leaks were reported on December 24th at Brighton Marine Field and Moruga, Hudlin Trace, Rock River Village. All of which the causes are yet to be ascertained as Petrotrin is still investigating. On December 26th 2013 it was observed that No. 15 Sea Line, during the pumping of fuel oil to a tanker, became detached from Main Viaduct and fell into the sea, resulting in a quantity of fuel oil into the sea, the cause of this was same as previously recorded a failed chain support not apparently defective during previous routine inspections.[2] On Tuesday 29th August 2014, a ruptured storage tank resulted in the spillage of 17, 844 barrels of slop oil into the environment, with several thousand barrels of oil finding itself in the Guaracara River (Petrotrin Guaracara oil Spill: 60 percent retrieved, T&T Newsday).[3]

Petrotrin has been facing a lot of scrutiny since the spill due to a report that revealed the pipeline that exploded may not have been inspected in over seventeen years. The company was subsequently fined $20 million by the country’s Environment Management Authority[4]. Petrotrin has taken responsibility for nine out of the eleven spills and blaming the other two on saboteurs.[5]

President of Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Mr. Khalid Hassanali gave a detailed history as to how the spill occurred and said the 12 employees were interviewed at least three times for various reasons. He said: “Twelve were initially suspended. Of those 12, six were found to have a lesser level of culpability and six were found to have a very high degree of culpability. And, for those six where the level of culpability weighed very heavily, those six (yesterday) morning were issued letters of termination from employment at Petrotrin.”[6]

Picture 2 http://unctt.org/strong-evidence-of-sabotage/

Picture 3 Rise Platform 5 Cited: http://unctt.org/strong-evidence-of-sabotage/

Similarities between BP & Petrotrin’s Oil Spills 

Marshall Islands deputy maritime affairs commissioner Bill Gallagher, who carried out an inquiry into the explosion because the rig was registered in the Pacific nation, said lessons had to be learned from the disaster.

He said there were indications of a problem at the Deepwater Horizon rig before the blast that killed 11 people on April 20 last year but the crew failed to act.

“There were multiple signs that there were issues at the well itself, indicators, pressure testing, and things of that nature were going on,” Gallagher told Australia’s ABC radio Friday.

“There were signs that there were some problems with the well…the blow out started and then, of course, the disaster followed shortly thereafter.”

Safety warnings issued to Petrotrin by the MEEA’s Inspection Unit:
2010 roll-overs: 966. 2011 — 2,085. Number rectified in 2011 — 1,193. 2011 roll-overs: 1,858.
New warnings issued in 2012 – 1,326. Number fixed — 1,435.
Roll-overs into 2013 — 1,785.

New warnings issued last year – 1,923.
No figures were available for the number of problems resolved.

The big spill: Not a chance occurrence but a culmination of negligent events.

Causes of both Spills
The failure of the rig crew (from all parties) to stop work on the Deepwater Horizon after encountering multiple hazards and warnings

  • BP’s failure to have full supervision and accountability over activities on the Deepwater Horizon
  • BP’s failure to fully assess the risks associated with operational decisions leading up to the blowout
  • BP’s cost or time-saving decisions, which did not consider contingencies and mitigation
  • BP’s failure to ensure all risks associated with operations on the Deepwater Horizon were as low as reasonably practicable.
  • Hassanali outlined the circumstances revealed by the investigations. He indicated that from 2:10 am to 3 am on December 17 fuel oil was being pumped to a barge off the Petrotrin jetty.
  • He noted that such activities occur almost on a daily basis at Petrotrin. The employees on that particular ship, Hassanali said, had noted that fuel oil was being pumped from tank 68 but not being received by the barge.
  • Pointing to a diagram that showed the location of the tanks, pumping station, oil lines and the Lube Oil Jetty and the Viaduct Jetty, Hassanali said checks were carried out along the line to the Lube Oil Jetty but no leaks were found but the barge still was not receiving the fuel that was being pumped and instead of halting the procedure a second pump was activated and pumping of fuel oil continued until after 5:20 am.
  • Petrotrin’s President said the oil was being leaked through a fissure in the Viaduct line, which intersects the Lube Oil Line, and had the pumping stopped at 3 am there would have been a loss of about 1,000 barrels but since pumping continued until 5:20 am 7,000 barrels were lost. Hassanali said investigations would continue.

Effects and Hazards of the Oil Spills

The oil spills from both companies negatively impacted the economic, the biological and public aspects of Trinidad and Tobago.

Economic Effect-both spills mainly affected the environment. They both caused heavy damage to the sea bed and marine life. The oil damage fishing grounds which in turn caused fishes and other marine life to become mutated or unable to thrive in such an environment. Most of them either died or were unable to be used as a sustainable food source.  Thus, the livelihood of the fishermen was affected as they in turn were unable to earn a living. Since their livelihood was threatened, they become dependent on the government resulting to a strain on the economy. Furthermore, with the BP oil spill, families had to relocate which caused real estate prices to fall drastically. Thankfully in both instances, neither country was dependant on the fishing industry as its major source of revenue.

Biological hazards – Many chemical hazards resulted from both spills. With the BP spill, it was discovered that the oil released 40% of a chemical called Methane into the ocean causing most of the marine life to die or become mutated. Methane can potentially suffocate marine life and create dead zones where oxygen is depleted. There was also evidence of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), which are often linked to oil spills, and include carcinogens and chemicals that pose various risks to human health, as deep as 3,300 feet (1.0 km) and as far away as 8 miles (13 km). The PAHs can kill animals immediately, in high enough concentrations, and can also lead to cancer. Plants and land around the sea were also severely affected in both spills. With the Petrotrin oil spill, the oil devastated the surrounding mangrove as well as displacing and deforming the animals that live there. Both spills released chemicals in the surrounding air making it difficult to breathe in.

Public hazard-a 29-year-old mother of two who resides near the Guaracara River in Marabella suffered from a miscarriage on the Saturday after the oil spill occurred. She began experiencing abdominal pains and hemorrhaging and was not given any plausible explanation as to why it occurred. When interviewed she said “I don’t know if that (the oil spill) is what caused my son to die. I just having a feeling that thing (oil spill) is what caused my lil boy to get sick.” The mother had planned to name her child Kayleon Juma Troy.Several days after the spill, a Petrotrin medical doctor advised Denacia Davis, another pregnant resident, to leave her home as a precaution.(Petrotrin Oil Spill Victim Suffers Miscarriage, Trinidad Express Newspapers)[7].

It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment, who may be affected thereby exposed to risks to their safety or health. It is also the duty of every employer or self-employed person in prescribed circumstances and manner, to give to persons, not being his employees, who may be affected by the way in which he conducts his undertaking, the prescribed information about such aspects of the way I which he conducts his undertaking as might affect their safety or health.(Occupational Safety and Health Act, Chap 88:08, p.20)[8] However, it can clearly be seen that Petrotrin did not take responsibility for those affected by their operations. After each spill, relief measures were then put in place to compensate those affected and not before the spills occurred.

Recommendations Prescribed for Petrotrin

  • The Centre for Disaster Control (CDC) saw the need to respond to potential health related issues resulting from the oil spill. They activated their emergency response plan as part of a federal response to the disaster. Part of this plan included efficient communication with health departments to allow a quick response and support for potential health risks.One response action the CDC took was the surveillance of health threats. Together with health departments, they used national surveillance systems to track any breakout or worsening of any condition related to the eyes, skin, respiratory or cardiovascular systems. Evidence of foodborne outbreaks was also monitored. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) expanded the health surveillance to workers on and off shore and volunteers from potential health hazards as a result of not only the oil spill but from chemicals used in the clean-up efforts.
  • In relation to the local oil spill involving Petrotrin, none of these actions were taken. Petrotrin did not even have an emergency response plan for the residents of nearby communities. This plan though not part of BP’s response, was the responsibility of a government body. There were no signs of any similar local body with any response actions. Several questions were raised in the media about Petrotrin’s emergency response plan after clean-up efforts were underway.
  • Petrotrin should provide motivational factors to ensure that employees do what is right in order to avoid mishaps. They should also be trained in social and ethical actions so that the appropriate responses to spills can be executed to ensure the safety of those who can be affected by the spills. The company makes a well enough figure to create a meagre expense as this in order to avoid greater losses.

Although Petrotrin has a well laid out safety policy available on their website they seem to not follow through with their health, safety and environment promises as they continue to experience spills. They should have reflected and remembered BP’s 2010 spill and put measures in place in order to avoid their own dilemmas. After such a huge loss on the part of BP, Petrotrin being a large petroleum company should have learnt something somewhere.


[1] Marajh, Camini (2014-04-05). “Petrotrin silent about oil spill for 4 days”Trinidad and Tobago Express. Retrieved 2014-04-24.

[2] Update on Spills (2013-12-27) http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/UPDATE-ON-OIL-SPILLS-237621491.html

[3] Richardson Dhalai (2014-08-02) “Petrotrin Guaracara oil spill: 60 percent retrieved.” http://www.newsday.co.tt/24.htmlnews/0,1985

[4] Boodram, Kim (2014-01-07). “EMA fines Petrotrin $20 million”Trinidad and Tobago Express. Retrieved 2014-02-22.

[5] Visser, Nick (2014-01-14). “Trinidad Oil Spills Leave State-Owned Energy Company Scrambling To Clean Up”Huffington Post. Retrieved 2014-02-22.

[6] Sue- Ann Wayow (2014-02-08) Six Petrotrin Employees fired for Negligence. http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Six-Petrotrin-employees-fired-for-oil-spill-negligence-244572581.html

[7] Sandhya Santoo (2014-08-19) Petrotrin Oil Spill Victim Suffers Miscarriage


[8] Occupational Safety and Health Act. 2004 Amended by 3 of 2006. Ministry of Legal Affairs. http://www.legalaffairs.gov.tt











Video Links for BP & Petrotrin Oil Spills:



  1. Pingback: Recommendations Prescribed To Curb Oil Spills! – Oil Spills and Fish Kills in the Gulf of Paria.

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