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Sunday, March 3, 2024
PORT OF SPAIN, Jun 26 2003 (IPS) - Michelle Mitchell-Dove complains about the loud noise, the vibrations in her house and the black smoke. She points to children in the village who have skin rashes, respiratory problems and allergies.
Last month, Mitchell-Dove and 150 other villagers from the southwestern town of Point Fortin came to the capital to demonstrate outside the headquarters of the Atlantic LNG company (ALNG), which is building the world’s largest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project here.
Residents blame the company for a spate of health problems and say the local environmental authority was too hasty in granting a permit for the 1.1-billion-U.S.-dollar liquefaction plant, the fourth phase to be constructed of an existing operation. The government counters that the project will boost the economy and stabilise electricity prices, and says the residents’ complaints appear to be ”unfounded”.
”It is an agreement which will ensure the continuing prosperity of this country and provide a platform for stronger social and economic development,” Prime Minister Patrick Manning told Parliament when the project was approved Jun. 16.
By 2008, the government says, LNG could bring in 250 million U.S. dollars a year to Trinidad and Tobago’s economy.
ALNG’s major shareholders are British Petroleum Trinidad and Tobago (BpTT), British Gas, Tractebel of Belgium, the Spanish-based Repsol and the locally owned National Gas Company (NGC), all of whom have been involved in LNG production here since 1995.
When the gas starts to flow, it will be shipped to seven destinations including the United States, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and possibly Jamaica.
But the villagers, aided by environmentalists and a major trade union, say the project comes with a steep social cost.
”We have a lot of problems with the plant, respiratory, noise, dust and flare pollution. I don’t know what we breathe, but sometimes in the morning we have this mist in the air and it smells in a very unpleasant way,” said villager Radica Driggs.
”It’s like living next to an airport with a jet taking off the whole day,” said Gary Aboud, secretary of the environmental group, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS).
FFOS and the powerful Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) have joined local residents in staging an ”indefinite” protest in the capital against the project.
FFOS says preliminary results from a health survey it requested earlier this year show that as many as 85 percent of respondents had health concerns.
”Based on what we have gathered there is need for a more in-depth study using verified data. At this stage, it would be more meaningful to put resources into that,” said Dr. Camanie Naraynsingh-Chang, who conducted the survey.
ALNG President Rick Cape heightened tensions when he appeared on a recent television programme and told viewers, ”we have to acknowledge that many of the affected residents are not entitled to be there in that particular area”.
”I think there are some tricky issues involved in the relocation or the continued relocation of individuals, not at least of which is to ensure once a decision is made to treat with those individuals, that is the end of the problem,” Cape added.
His comments angered many local residents. ”Everybody here paying land rent, they paying tax. I don’t know where they come up with the idea that we squatting,” Mitchell-Dove said.
Villager Monica Ramkisson pointed out that residents were receiving electricity and water, and paying taxes. ”You cannot get these without the proper documents,” she told IPS. ”All these homes, handed down from generation to generation.”
A summary of the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) issued by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to ALNG showed the company to be operating within ”accepted standards”.
The EMA said the company should ”liase closely with the Ministry of Health” and conduct an ongoing survey of the project’s possible impacts on residents, although it said, ”the EMA supports the relocation of the residents”.
The FFOS health survey, it added, is ”inconclusive”.
”Responding to the perceived connection between incidents of asthma and respiratory problems by residents to ALNG operations, to say they are directly linked is not scientific,” said EMA corporate communications officer Neil Parsanlal.
The EMA did call on ALNG to ”develop mechanisms to establish a buffer zone, if such is required”, to minimise impacts from construction and operation, and recommended that the company spend an estimated 200,000 U.S. dollars ”to stop any increase in erosion”.
FFOS now wants the United Nations to mediate in the matter. It is also calling for the creation of a ”heritage fund” of 333 million U.S. dollars from ALNG’s annual profits, estimated at 3.3 billion dollars.
Aboud says the group is preparing to take legal action to prevent the August start of the LNG expansion project and is receiving legal assistance from Canadian attorneys.
”If we have a fighting chance, we will. But first we have to determine if we have a fighting chance. We have to examine the approval (CEC) to get proper technical advice on whether it is lacking in consideration for residents,” he said.
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