(Trinidad Guardian) State-owned Petrotrin moved in yesterday to seize the assets of one of its private lease operators, A&V Oil and Gas Ltd, two days after the private lease operator lost its legal battle to prevent the company from terminating its contract.
But even as Petrotrin employees were measuring the quantity of oil remaining in the tanks of A&V Oil & Gas Ltd’s facilities in the Catshill Field off Moruga, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) was called in to investigate the source of an oil spill at one of the wells.
Once a cash cow for A&V and its owner, Hanif Nazim Baksh, the facility was like a ghost town yesterday, with most of the pumping jacks dormant and the lease operator’s trucks lined up in the yard.
Following the lease operator’s unsuccessful bid before the Privy Council to block Petrotrin from terminating its contract and withhold an $83.9 million payment based on allegations of inflated bills, Petrotrin seized control of the facilities yesterday.
An EMA team spent hours searching for Well CO50 where there was a report of an oil spill. The EMA said it received a report of the oil spill on Tuesday evening and following protocol, it dispatched officers from its Emergency Response and Investigations team yesterday.
However, the EMA said it was too early to make any conclusions as to what would have caused the oil spill as well as to provide details of the investigations. Officers are expected to return to the site today to continue their probe.
There was no indication as to whether the oil spill had anything to do with the low volumes of crude oil found in most of the tanks. Using dipsticks, most of the tanks were almost dry, a sheer contrast to the booming production the lease operator reported in 2017. The exercise in the field located ten miles into the forest off St Mary’s Village was carried out with security officers armed with rifles. There was no official spokesperson for Petrotrin or the lease operator present.
On Monday, the Privy Council rejected A&V Oil & Gas Ltd’s appeal of the decisions of two local courts to dismiss its application for an injunction against Petrotrin. The court ruled that the company had failed to raise an arguable case with a realistic prospect of success. As a result of the decision, a temporary injunction granted by the Privy Council almost two weeks ago was automatically discharged, making way for Petrotrin to take over the field that was leased out back in 2009.
The union representing the oil workers yesterday demanded that Petrotrin cease all contracts with private lease operators.
Speaking outside the Beaumont Hill Centre, Pointe-a-Pierre yesterday, OWTU president general Ancel Roget said that farming out Petrotrin’s acreages to private companies was a way for those in authority to gain revenue through questionable means.
“Get rid of every last one of them and let Petrotrin produce its own oil,” Roget said.
He spoke just before the union met with Petrotrin’s management over their proposals for the planned restructuring of the failing oil company.
“We condemn that outright, totally. All Petrotrin’s assets with respect to exploration, production, wells and acreages must be handed back to Petrotrin so that Petrotrin can exploit that in the interest of the country.
It is sham; it is a way to give away the country’s assets,” he claimed.
While it would mean hundreds of workers would be out of a job, he said, Petrotrin had 860 vacancies that need to be filled.
But while the union’s demand was to scrap the programme, Roget said they were seeing an expansion, which he said raised questions about Petrotrin’s Board of Director’s mandate for the company.
He said even before the Board responded to their proposals, there was talk that a new president was being sourced from the Massy Group.
Board of Directors announced yesterday a new structure to assume immediate responsibility for the company’s operations while the Board focuses on the reorganisation.
As a result, the employment of three vice presidents and a senior manager was terminated. No further information was provided on the identity of those affected.
In the new structure, board chairman Wilfred Espinet, deputy chairman Reynold Adjodhansingh, will assume oversight for the finance and administration while former vice president and current director Anthony Chan Tack will have responsibility for refining and marketing and consultant Robert Riley, a former bpTT CEO, will overlook the exploration and production departments as well as the emergency response units.
The new teams are expected to be in place between June and September while the Board completes its task, the statement said.
“The transition has to be completed as quickly as practical: we have a number of pressing deadlines and commitments to meet- a US$850 million bond payment that is due in August 2019 and a refinery whose survival is contingent on a further US$300 million investment for the completion of the Ultra-Low Sulphur Diesel Plant by 2029. We can’t address these challenges unless we become competitive,” the statement added.