Blessing in disguise?
Residents of Monrovia and its environs early Monday morning woke up to an unusual phenomenon regarding fuel (diesel) spillage over the Mesurado river, which many experts fear has the potential of an environmental hazard, especially to marine species and residents who live along the banks of the river.
Scores of residents of Monrovia began trooping to the river when news the broke out, with the hope of collecting fuel for their economic benefits, in spite of concerns for their safety.
The residents, many of whom came from the slum communities of Vai Town and Clara Town, converged near the bank of the river in huge crowds with gallons and jerry-cans in their bid to hunt for spilled fuel oil on the bank of the Mesurado River.
Dozens of women, children, and elderly men were also seen using canoes to fetch the spilled fuel floating over the river, while some jumped into the water to collect theirs. The residents were seen transporting gallons of fuel from the scene, with some voicing their happiness over the situation to newsmen in Monrovia, hoping that they will generate funds that will take them through the Independence Day celebration.
According to them, the spillage came at a time when they barely have money to purchase food and other essential goods for the upkeep of their homes.
The spillage, according to sources, came as negligence on the part of technicians and a damaged pipeline that supplies fuel from vessels to the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) storage tankers on Bushrod Island.
However, the management of LPRC has clarified that Monday’s spillage of fuel over the Mesurado River occurred while a vessel was loading fuel to one of the storage facilities, contrary to reports that one of its storage facilities got damaged.
Making the clarification on ELBC later on Monday, July 20, LPRC Managing Director, Marie Urey Coleman said about three thousand (3,000) gallons spilled over during the loading, adding that all active storage facilities are intact and safe.
“During the early hours of this morning we had a vessel that was discharging products for our importers and we had a minor spillage, with just under three thousand gallons of diesel that we had spilled over during the vessel discharge. We want to assure you that the situation has been placed under control,” Madam Coleman said.
LPRC’s Public Relations Manager, William Morris, added that the incident took place while technicians were loading one of the old tanks at the LPRC PST facility. Williams, like his boss, refuted the assertions of damage to the pipeline and collusion at the entity.
He said this is not the first time that the facility has experienced such an incident. “Similar spillage happened about two or three occasions during the past regime. This is not a strange thing. It happens all over the world,” Morris told this reporter.
However, he said that rehabilitation works are currently ongoing at the Product Storage Terminal (PST) to ensure that the facility is up-to-date.
“Some of the pipes were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. Some are more than fifty years old. It is no secret that some are corroded and need repairs and this is exactly what we are doing,” Williams explained.
To help mitigate potential hazards that might accompany the spillage, The LPRC spokesman added that major stakeholders were immediately contacted to address the situation which includes a team of investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Williams also said an assessment into the conditions of pipelines in 2014 was conducted by British Oil engineers ‘Mother Wells’, which recommended immediate rehabilitation.
The LPRC Managing Director at the time, T. Nelson Williams, Jr., immediately recommended to the Board of Directors on the findings of the rehabilitation, and Mother Wells was contracted to begin works on the oil pipeline which continued until the dismissal of Mr. Nelson and the subsequent emergence of the EBOLA epidemic that brought the work to a standstill.
But the contract with Mother Wells was terminated when Nelson Williams’ term ended and Former Lofa county Senator, Sumo Kupee, was ushered in. The contract with the British company reportedly ended due to the high sum of money the company was demanding.
Upon revision of the contract, the Sumo Kupee’s leadership cancelled the Mother Wells contract and awarded it to Luther, which continued until the coming of the George Weah Administration. Morris said that the rehabilitation at the facility is now about 80% complete.
“The facility is already nearing completion with additional storage tankers erected during the administration of immediate past Managing Director Nyemade Pearson,” he noted.
However, there are fears over potential environmental hazards, especially to marine species and residents who live along the banks of the river.
When contacted, Acting EPA Executive Director, Randall Dobayou, said: “Preliminary findings suggest that the source of the leakage is from LPRC. EPA is leading a full-scale investigation considering all perimeter of concern.”
Authorities of the EPA said they established that on Sunday, July 19, 2020, the management of LPRC carried out normal operation of transferring petroleum products from a vessel to storage tank 402. While in the process, tank 402 began to overflow with diesel.
The operation was conducted at night with poor visibility and a manual system. It was also established that the valve, which closes the tank, was opened, thereby allowing oil to flow from the tank into the river. The situation resulted in massive water pollution spanning from LPRC facility to Vamuco in Vai Town and beyond.
The agency is leading a full-scale assessment considering all parameters of concern. The assessment team includes the EPA, Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA), and LPRC.
“We are scaling up efforts to get the findings ready as soon as possible,” EPA Acting Executive Director Dobayou said in a statement released last evening.
He disclosed that an environmental and social impact assessment is being done to determine the remediation and restoration action that needs to be taken in favor of the environment.
Dobayou disclosed that the Ministry of Information will officially communicate findings from the investigation since it is a joint assessment involving three government agencies.
David Yates Contributes to this story.