Department of the Environment and BNE officials “have nothing to say”
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 12, 2018– Most Belizeans would not have known that there was an oil spill at the Belize Natural Energy (BNE) Spanish Lookout facility last Sunday if it had not been reported by the Belmopan-based Plus TV, which shared the information with Kremandala.
On Tuesday, Amandala attempted to get information from BNE about this latest oil spill. We were told that the person who is allowed to speak to the media was not available, and the person we spoke with said he was not authorized to comment.
This person, however, told us, “we have to do our own internal assessment,” thereby confirming that something had happened at the BNE oil operations.
After speaking to BNE we attempted to get information from the Department of the Environment, but we were told that only the Chief Environmental Officer could answer questions about the BNE oil spill, but he was in a meeting—a standard bureaucratic avoidance of the press.
Our call, however, was never returned, and neither has the Department of the Environment issued a press release on the oil spill.
In an interview with Plus TV, Allan Reimer, the chairman of Spanish Lookout Petroleum Board, related how he learned about the oil spill.
“On Sunday morning I got a text from a person at BNE that they had a spill, and then I sent personnel out there to scout the area and assess the damages. What we found was a ditch filled with crude oil, a layer of crude oil in there flowing down into a creek.
“We followed the creek and it went on for about a quarter of a mile, and at the end of the creek we found puddles of crude oil varying from about 5 to 50 gallons per puddle, so all in all, I think we must have lost in excess of about 1,000 gallons,” Reimer said.
A crude oil spill, apart from being very damaging to the environment, is also dangerous to humans when they come in contact with it.
Reimer explained, “Well, first of all, it was the contamination and also never knowing what all is in the crude oil. When we have refined oil, we rely on most of the toxics having been removed, but when a raw crude oil comes to the surface, nobody knows what’s in there.
“So the health issue is first and foremost. We’ve had enough of that, we’ve had experience, and then after that, we have the nausea, the obnoxious smell of it. It looks bad. Vegetation dies and then what worries us the most is when the cleanup, it happens along creeks where there is dense vegetation, they have to go and remove about 50% of the vegetation.
“After that, it’s erosion problems. That is what concerns us.”
In a matter of about 16 months, there have been at least three oil spills where the BNE operations are taking place. In 2006, BNE installed some underground pipes and apparently, these are what have been causing the frequent oil spills.
Reimer believes that it all boils down to faulty infrastructure and a lack of capital to fix the problem.
Reimer said, “It bears down to the conclusion that the infrastructure is failing, it’s obviously failing. Is there money to fix it? I don’t know, we’re getting mixed messages. Do we have bills to pay as a country? Yes! Massive bills to pay. So, it sometimes feels like we’re between a rock and a hard place with the oil stuff. I don’t know how much further environmental degradation we will see in the future.”
Reimer was asked about some of the mixed messages that he has been getting.
“We have bills to pay; therefore oil revenue is a major contributor to the government. Oil production has been on the decline now for many years, oil prices are low, and the bills are getting higher. Where is the balance between protecting the environment and paying our bills?” Reimer asked.