Norway’s state oil company Equinor still lacks an overview of the damage caused when Hurricane Dorian blew the tops off five of its oil storage tanks at its terminal in the Bahamas three weeks ago. Oil spill clean-up efforts are underway, after the storm blew oil out of the tanks and over a wide area.
Equinor CEO Eldar Sætre told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday that the company remains unsure how much oil spilled out of the tanks that collectively held 1.8 million barrels when the hurricane hit the South Riding Point terminal on Grand Bahama. A company statement issued on Tuesday reported that more than 6,000 barrels have been recovered so far.
Sætre said that most of the oil spilled was lying in the containment area around the tanks. He confirmed that oil was also flung into the surrounding area “where we have less of an overview” in terms of how much oil is involved and “how the picture looks.”
Aftenposten’s reporter was at the scene nine days after the hurricane, before any clean-up operations had begun. She reported how trees were covered with oil, and that there were “dams of oil all over.” A forested area around the terminal area was “completely black, covered with oil,” and the ground was covered with oil as far as 400-500 meters outside the tank area.
After delays in procuring clean-up equipment and getting it shipped to the site from the US mainland, Equinor reported that more than 250 people and “large-scale equipment” are now involved in oil recovery efforts. “The terminal area is currently on track to be cleaned from free-standing oil within two to three weeks,” Equinor stated. Plans for “how to address the outside area” were being developed “in dialogue with local authorities.”
Both local employees, others hired in from the local area and international workers were engaged in the clean-up this week, with work due to continue using vacuum trucks, absorbents and other equipment.
The spill has raised alarm among local environmentalists who fear the oil lying on the ground will seep into the groundwater. That would set off the second recent major environmental disaster caused by a Norwegian company, following the contamination of drinking water around Norsk Hydro’s aluminum plant in Brazil, which also suffered damage from a severe storm.
Not worried about Norway’s reputation
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who met with Sætre in New York on Sunday just before a series of climate meetings at the United Nations this week, told Aftenposten she wasn’t worried that Equinor’s oil spill would damage Norway’s reputation. “I don’t think it means anything for Norway’s reputation,” she told Aftenposten. “What I hear is that it’s extremely important for these countries to have access to energy in their areas.”
Solberg added that she was in the Bahamas earlier this summer and met the country’s prime minister. “They’re glad Equinor has this facility,” Solberg said, “but in the longer term it’s also of course important that the region find renewable sources for its energy needs.”
Sætre said there was still no indication that oil had spilled into the sea. He said the terminal has been subjected to extreme weather on previous occasions, adding that “these tanks were designed to withstand this type of a hurricane. This is the first time we have experienced a situation like this. There were enormous forces at work.”