Cracked walls, creaky houses, foul gas, unanswered questions

-not Halloween but daily life for residents around Diamond natural gas well

Gail Williams-Fraser pointing to one of the large cracks in her home which she says gets worse as the days progress.

A Diamond, East Bank Demerara, home owner who lives abroad, says she has had to stay in the country longer than planned as a result of the creeping deterioration of her house due to the nearby natural gas well that was recently capped.

Other residents also complained of damage to their homes as well as the limited communication from agencies dealing with the issue, during a visit to the site yesterday by an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) team led by its new boss Dr Vincent Adams.

62-year-old Gail Williams-Fraser explained yesterday morning that she has been working and living in London, England for a number of years but only returned to the country after the well erupted in June.

“I had to go back to work on September 7 but I am still here because no one is telling us anything and we are not sure what is going on and where it is going. I might lose my job because I was only entitled to five weeks off and that was since June. This situation is keeping me here because if I leave and go, what will happen to whoever I leave? I’m stuck here for now until it ends and I don’t know when that is going to be. No one comes and says anything, no one asking any questions,” the visibly frustrated woman said.

During a tour of her two-storey concrete house, she pointed out the several large cracks to her walls, which she said, have been getting worse as the days progress.

“I think it gets worse every day because that wall wasn’t like that and sometimes you see bricks on the flood and I still think there is movement,” Williams-Fraser said.

Because of the state of the house, the woman spends most of her time at her nephew in Providence but visits often. She also related that a tenant who rented the lower flat, also vacated because of the issue.

“I try to sleep here some nights. At first, the first couple of weeks when I came in June when it happened, I used to be afraid because sometimes you would hear a knock and I would get up and sit down and can’t go back to sleep. Or you would feel like something is walking under the bed so I left and went by my nephew,” the woman related.

Other residents have also complained about similar issues with large cracks on their walls, beams and other parts of the house. They also highlighted to the EPA yesterday, the lack of communication between the different agencies that have been working on the site, with them.

The residents claimed that since the well erupted more than four months ago, there has not been any substantial communication from any agency or person to let them know what exactly has been taking place and what their plan of action is.

“All we know is that we see them building some tanks and putting down. In the nights, we get some very stink smell of the gas. This gas is going on more than (four) months now and no one is telling us nothing. They came and did some testing before and now like they have no report or nothing on record because we don’t know what the reading was. So, for the residents of Diamond, we would like to know what is going on regarding the gas, the tanks, where it is going to be stored and how safe it is for the residents,” Richard Paghoo, who lives opposite the site, said.

Another resident, Wendy DeCunha, said more than 20 letters were sent to different agencies including the Civil Defence Commission, the area’s Neighbourhood Democratic Council, the Regional Executive Officer, and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), among others, but they have gotten no response.

The woman said that they would like to be educated on how they can live in their yards and the things they should not do in light of the natural gas being emitted on a daily basis.

After listening to the residents, Adams promised that there would be adequate communication between the EPA and the residents to inform them of the situation. He related that his visit was prompted by calls from persons and he decided to go there to gain a better understanding of the circumstances.

“Obviously I got here listening to concerns so now I am going back to communicate with the other agencies and entities for us to figure exactly what is happening. It’s obvious that the GGMC is doing something in terms of mitigating the problem but we all need to work as a unit to figure out the issue to bring a solution,” Adams said. He emphasised that the EPA is not taking over the operation but highlighted that the agency has a key role in overseeing gas and air pollution and whatever other hazards there are.

The EPA also conducted tests yesterday and Teshana Redmond, Senior Environmental Officer, Air Quality and Noise Management, said that they will be using a MultiRAE gas monitor, which can test for different gases.

“We will be testing for carbon dioxide, nitric oxide and VOC – volatile organic carbons,” she said.

She further explained that some tests were done before and revealed that the emissions of nitric oxide as well as VOCs were not tagged at alarming amounts and all were recorded at below two parts per million, which, she said, is well within the threshold for safety.

Even though they are unable to tell the volume of gas that is under the surface, Adams explained that they can continue to monitor the emissions in terms of the concentration of the various gases and then compare the figures to what is allowed in terms of safety.

“What she (Redmond) was indicating was the concentrations were within the safe limits but it doesn’t mean that we are just going to accept that for that particular time because these things can fluctuate over time. So we are going to try to monitor as much as possible. The key here is what is going to be the permanent fix (and) that is what we are going to be driving at. I understand the anxiety it brings to the residents,” Adams added.

While the well has been capped, natural gas is still escaping from various points in the yard. Two large metal tanks are also being built to store the natural gas.

On June 14th, the illegally dug well erupted, ejecting water, mud and natural gas up to 100 feet in the air. Diamond resident Soownauth ‘Water Man’ Gorakh, had reportedly dug the well some time ago and was using it for domestic purposes.

Gorakh claimed, via a statement by the Region Four administration, that he and his wife, Tulabhaduree, had attempted to dig the well after experiencing water troubles. The woman claimed that the family has suffered over $20 million in damage.

The Gorakhs’ immediate neighbours have also suffered varying degrees of damage.

There has been no pronouncement on whether Gorakh is to be held responsible for the damage or be made responsible for the financial costs incurred due to the incident. Both the EPA and the Hydrometeorological Office can legally sanction Gorakh but a source from the latter has explained that they have not decided on what course of action they are going to take against him.

Last week, the government sought the approval of the National Assembly for a further $3.116 million to cover costs of remedial works related to the well.

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