Norway’s state oil company Equinor (ex-Statoil) was being bashed by environmentalists over the weekend for failing to better secure its oil terminal in the Bahamas. Last week’s devastating Hurricane Dorian ripped the covers off oil storage tanks, resulting in an oil spill that Equinor itself reports is around 1.3 kilometers long.
“This is a catastrophe, and Norway must clean up,” Sam Teicher told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. Teicher runs an organization in Grand Bahamas dedicated to nurturing coral reefs to protect them from the effects of climate change.
He and his colleague Luke Hopper made their way to Equinor’s South Riding Point oil termal on Grand Bahama Island late last week, and found trees, grass and dead birds covered with oil. Oil also floated on flooded roads and they fear strong winds and waves have carried oil, which was blown out of suddenly opened tanks, right out to sea.
Teicher and Hopper told Aftenposten that others told them of seeing oil on beaches on the island. Oil has also seeped into the ground around the terminal, with Teicher estimating pollution and “serious damage” over an area of around “a few square kilometers.”
Equinor published satellite images on Sunday suggesting damage was less than that, with a “plume area of the oil spill” covering around 500 square meters and around 1.3 kilometers long. Equinor officials confirmed, however, that the exact size of the spill was not yet clear but that clean-up efforts would start immediately.
‘Complex and challenging’
“The situation is complex and challenging, with damage to infrastructure hampering progress in relief and response efforts,” Equinor wrote on its web site. The large and profitable oil company, which is 67 percent-owned by the Norwegian government, claimed it was mobilizing skimmers, oil containment booms absorbents, pumps, pressure washers and boats to clean up the spill. Vessels used for oil spill response have been secured in Port Fourchon, Louisiana and in various Florida ports and were enroute to the area.
“Equinor will clean up the spills from the South Riding Point oil terminal,” the company wrote. “Resources are being mobilized as quickly as possible to safeguard people, the environment and the facility.”
Norwegian Oil Minister Kjell-Børge Freiberg of the Progress Party told Aftenposten that the government was following the situation, which remained difficult to assess. “We have full confidence that Equinor will handle the situation in the Bahams in the best manner for both its employees and the company,” Freiberg said.
“Norway is known for its commitment to the environment and the seas,” Teicher said. “Now it must prove itself worthy of the image and clean this up.”
“We take this very seriously,” Equinor spokesman Erik Haaland told Aftenposten. He said more than 100 Equinor employees in Norway, the US and the Bahamas were working within the company’s preparedness organization “and we’ll pull in more people as needed both internally and externally.”
Equinor had 54 employees on Grand Bahama and all were confirmed to be safe and accounted for in the wake of the hurricane that all but destroyed other areas of the islands. The company said it was arranging employee relief including water and food supplies.
Equinor owns the South Riding Point storage and trans-shipment terminal on Grand Bahama Island. The terminal has storage capacity of 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate, with 1.8 million barrels stored in three tanks when the hurricane hit. Other tanks contained residual oil.
While Equinor officials claimed the hurricane had a strength that was difficult to predict or fathom, critics disagreed. “If you build an oil storage plant right in the firing line of the planet’s worse hurricanes, you should build with the thought of a Category 5 or even worse,” Joseph Darville, an environmental activist who lives on Grand Bahama.”I thought this plant was a potential catastrophe long before this hurricane came.”
As an oil producer that’s also active in sensitive Arctic areas, Equinor is also regularly accused of contributing to the climate change that’s manifesting itself in more extreme weather around the world. Equinor’s Haaland claimed, however, that “it’s important for Equinor to take care of the nature on and around the terminal in the Bahamas.”