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On August 11th I acted as a nature guide during the monthly excursions we organize together with Grupo Bina. This time we took the participants on an end-of-the-day tour along the coast of the salt pans of Jan Kok, a beautiful area with lots of wildlife. During the trip, I happened to mention the current gas and oil exploration hype our government created (including the press statement of one of the ministers that we all should invest in Arabic headgear), with a personal note that I’m not so sure we should pursue this path.
One of the participants reacted a bit shocked: ‘Why not, it will boost our economy and lift us out of the financial hole we are in.’ My response thankfully triggered some reflection. One of the most prestigious oil companies in the world, BP, is responsible for one of the most dramatic environmental disasters in recent years. And only because the company was lowering costs, resulting in a lack of maintenance and a slack in safety procedures.
If such a thing could have happened with BP in a relatively well-regulated setting, what can we expect of the less reputable companies our government tends to deal with? This remark caused some serious head scratching within my group.
Fast forward the clock to yesterday, the 27th of August. Not even 50 meters from where this discussion took place I waded through black muck, taking pictures of crabs covered in ‘black gold’. What happened? According to an anonymous insider, all the safety systems within the industrial oil-water separation system at the Curacao Oil Terminal (COT) at Bullenbaai are out of order for years already. Ideally, when all water has been drained, the system should shut off. During the last several years, however, humans had to stay vigilant to close the valves at the right moment. On the 18th of August, this mechanism failed. A significant amount of oil was discharged directly into the ocean. But everyone kept quite, expecting the oil to be carried away by currents and wind (which for me is a clear indication that the same thing has happened regularly over the years). Unfortunately, the wind pattern during the following days was southerly, and the black muck was blown into the direction of the narrow entrance to the Rif St. Marie inner bay. Enough oil entered the bay to cause a situation that can only be described as an environmental disaster.
Only now the size of the event is becoming a bit clear. It easily could have been prevented, or at least effectively remediated. Once again our failures in design are making thousands of innocent victims. It is as if my remarks during the excursion were somewhat like a dark prophecy, unfortunately.