Emergency Workers vacuum spilled diesel fuel into storage tanks to be transported back to Nassau (BIS Photo / Gena Gibbs).
Eleuthera, The Bahamas -- On December
7, the Ministry of the Environment organised a delegation of DEHS Inspectors
and Environmental experts to visit the BEC site in Eleuthera and assess
the 70,000 gallon diesel spillage that amassed into a lake of toxic
and highly flammable fumes near the Coastal shoreline. An investigation
is currently pending into how and why the rust coloured substance leaked
out from and is sitting in pools underneath decommissioned storage tanks.
The fuel ended up spilling into a lake of diesel that was being vacuumed
into plastic storage tanks to be shipped back to Nassau for treatment.
"The purpose of my visit here
is to really get an understanding of the impact of the oil spill. We've
been receiving reports since the time of the incident, and I wanted
to make sure that what I was receiving, by way of preliminary reports
was in fact representative of what was happening on the ground. So,
it was very important for me to get here as quickly as possible. As
you know we've been addressing issues in Grand Bahama as well as Eleuthera.
I think what is important for the people of Eleuthera and the greater
Bahamas to understand that the oil spill protocols, particularly for
terrestrial oil spills, is something that is established and certainly
has been followed based on what I see here," said the Hon. Kendred
Dorsett, Minister of the Environment.
According to BEC officials, these
tanks were once used to store fuel pumped in from delivery fuel tankers,
hired to bring diesel to BEC for its generators. A general consensus
believes the fuel was siphoned by bandits from the tanker ship and stored
in the decommissioned tanks to perpetuate an underground local business
to sell the stolen fuel at bargain prices.
"Within 24 hours of the incident
occurring, 23,000 gallons of the approximately 70,000 which was spilled
was recovered. BAYCHEM, which is a company approved by the Department
of Environmental Health Services to deal with these remediation efforts
were here within the 24 hour period and also began their works and efforts,”
said Minister Dorsett.
"So for us, I'm very pleased
with the level of response. The Water and Sewerage Corporation in the
person of John Bowleg, who was also a member of the Wetlands Committee
was here. He has conducted his assessment. And while verbally, he has
given me the assurance that he believes that there isn't any significant
impact, I am waiting for his formal report before I speak to what he
Minister Dorsett said Mr. Bowleg
indicated that there's been no ground contamination to the extent where
it has affected the water tables here in this vicinity. Coupled with
the fact that it has rained, Minister Dorsett said that he was told
by the technical experts that BAYCHEM will assist in the recovery efforts
because the oil that may have seeped into the ground. He said the solution
they offered is that it will be naturally raised up out of the ground,
as a result of the rain and BAYCHEM will continue its efforts to extract
"And so, the investigation as
to what caused the spill is ongoing. I'm not going to preempt that process
by making any statements, but certainly in the dialogue between the
BEST Commission, the Department of Environmental Health Services and
BEC, I think they have arrived at a conclusion as to what may have caused
this. So, I'm waiting for what I've heard being discussed anecdotally
to be reflected in a formal report so I can speak to the Bahamian People
about that,” said Minister Dorsett.
Minister of the Environment, the Hon. Ken Dorsett gives statements to the media about the fuel spill in Eleuthera (BIS Photo / GENA GIBBS).
"I'm pleased with the collaborative
efforts of BEC and the Department of Environmental Health Services,
and the BEST Commission. We've gone into the mangroves and the surrounding
areas to see what impact may have existed there. And, I'm certainly
happy that the Water and Sewerage Corporation has also stepped in as
they ought to and have conducted their assessment. So, the protocol
has been tested. I'm pleased to see it has been followed. We should
be able to give a very detailed report very shortly.”
Minister Dorsett said that “A ship
pulled into the harbour or the bay there. I understand that the fuel
was then piped through that valve that we see in the distance. And what
happened was, what I am told; I haven’t received any formal reports;
that somehow the decommissioned tanks; the oil was routed to decommissioned
tanks. That ought not to have happened. That created the spill,” said
“So BEC has already indicated that
they have taken measures as I have seen to ensure that it does not happen
again. But, it appears that that is what has caused the spill. I am
not going to preempt the investigative process. There is an ongoing
investigation. That is the explanation that has been given to me on
the ground but I will wait for that investigation to be concluded before
I speak to what transpired.”
Minister Dorsett said that BAYCHEM
is an approved company and their actions will be under the control and
monitoring of the Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS).
He said the material that has been collected will now be transported
in a properly secured and managed away to an approved site in New Providence,
where it will be further recycled and treated.
“It is not going to end up in a
landfill. It is going to be treated properly and then some of it will
be reused. That will be the destination of the material that’s being
collected and that will be under the supervision of the Department of
Environmental Health Services, but there’s going to be continued work
in the area,” said Minister Dorsett.
“And so, the BEST Commission will
return. Water and Sewerage, I’m sure, will return. So that we ensure
that there is a proper post-mortem and continued analysis of what happens
here in our endeavour to ensure that the natural environment here is
protected and in no way shape or form is contaminated or in danger.”