Unwarranted spill optimism

Unwarranted spill optimism

(Photo: AFP)
(Photo: AFP)

As efforts to save the seas off Rayong continue following an undersea pipeline leak near Map Ta Phut, public scepticism is growing about the kind of preventive measures and crisis management the company, Star Petroleum Refining Co (SPRC), has in place -- as well as in regard to the response from state authorities.

Despite the fact the impact on marine ecology has yet to be gauged, several state agencies have tried to downplay this, insisting the oil leak that began on Jan 25 and has continued since is not as serious as a similar mishap in 2013 when a large slick hit Koh Samet, a major tourist attraction in this eastern province. At that time, delays to the clean-up worsened the problem.

Optimism by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa over the latest oil spill is seen as premature if not out of place, while authorities are working around the clock as they try to stop the oil from drifting to beaches and communities.

"It's not good news, but it's not that bad," the minister was quoted as saying by Thai-language media outlets, comparing this week's incident to the 2013 spill. Chemical dispersants have been sprayed from helicopters in a timely manner, while at around 20,000 litres, the amount of leaked oil is less than previously reported by the company, he said.

"Only a thin film of oil has been spread over the sea,'' the minister said, as if expressing relief.

He issued a plea to all oil production operators to strictly take care of their transport and pipeline systems, to ensure all are in 100% working order to prevent more calamities.

According to SPRC, it contacted -- and solicited help from -- various state agencies after it learnt of the leak, which has been blamed on the erosion of certain parts of the pipeline.

The company claimed it had followed all the safety guidelines, notifying the Environmental Monitoring and Control Centre (EMCC), fishing communities and the Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Centre (Thai-MECC) Region 1 about the incident.

In particular, it said it coordinated with Singapore-based Oil Spill Response (OSRL), which was to send experts to the troubled spot.

The environment minister said he believed the oil could be contained. Yet some experts remain pessimistic. If the containment measures fail, oil could reach Rayong's beaches by this afternoon, they say.

The minister said the SPRC would have to pay for the clean-up, and authorities will ask the company to compensate for the long-term impact.

Such a soft approach is baffling, however. Indeed, the public is sceptical as to whether SPRC has any other option but to take responsibility for the damage caused to marine ecology and the impact on communities, especially fishermen.

Moreover, the fact that Mr Varawut neglected to dig deeper into the cause of the leak is somewhat disturbing. For laypeople, there is the impression that this sort of pipe erosion could have been prevented, had the company put in place proper maintenance measures.

Unless the authorities get tough on operators, oil pipeline leaks and other harmful incidents will happen again. According to the Marine Department, there have been 235 oil leaks in the past 45 years, putting the health of Thai seas at great risk.

As such, it is incumbent on the government, particularly the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and other agencies, to show that they have implemented all necessary measures to prevent these operators from escaping responsibility.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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