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Environment Ministry launches Investigation into the Eleuthera fuel spill
By Gena Gibbs, BIS
Dec 10, 2012 - 6:14:30 PM

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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 has found." 

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 the material. 

"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. 

Environment_Minister_Dorsett_speaks_to_DEHS_Inspector_and_Emergency_Worker.jpg
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 Minister Dorsett. 

“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.”                                                    


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