The state-run Barbados National Oil Company (BNOC) has gone on the offensive to allay the fears of residents in the areas surrounding its Woodbourne oilfields in St Philip following a major natural gas leak, which started yesterday afternoon.
Senior staff were today hand-delivering 300 letters to residents, assuring them that their health was not endangered by the escaping gas from a broken well.
“The dissipation of the gas into the atmosphere at this point is not likely to pose any health risk to residents in the surrounding areas of the Woodbourne oilfield,” said the letter signed by technical manager Mervyn Gordon, who said that the gas spewed into the atmosphere before odorant was added, and therefore would have been odourless at the time.
Residents in nearby down-wind districts such as Packers, Christ Church had complained that they were not being informed about what was going on.
The BNOC reacted swiftly this evening to issue the letters and assured residents that the company would keep them informed on the status of the repairs to the well.
The damage was sustained while a crew was repairing an existing oil pipeline in the vicinity of the well, said Gordon in the circular, a copy of which was obtained by Barbados TODAY.
He said that the emergency services had been placed on alert in case they were required to ensure the public’s safety during this period as the BNOC seeks to find a permanent solution to the escaping gas, which was “coming and going”.
“It all depends. Wells are unpredictable, the pressure is there. What happens is we have to be able to overcome the reservoir pressure. We have managed to achieve that on a number of occasions; but because of the weight of the fluid . . . the weight of the fluid is what controls or keeps the gas back. The weight of the fluid has not been sufficient to keep it back long enough. What we are hoping [for] is that this solution will,” replied the technical manager when asked how soon the problem would be fully resolved.
He noted that the affected gas well had been abandoned since 2001 and because it was shut in, the pressure built up over time.
Gordon explained that work crews had started to pump heavier brine fluid to control the well. “Once we can get that done, we would have to give it a period of time to make sure that there is no gas coming out then we could go and weld the steel plate across the hole on the casing and that should be a permanent solution,” assured the BNOC official.
He told Barbados TODAY some residents had called to complain about the gas and that they were assured that the gas posed no threats.
“It does not really cause any harmful effects. Some people who suffer from asthma, as in terms of dust and so on, may be affected, but generally the gas goes into the atmosphere and it dissipates. That’s it.”
Gordon said that at around 1.30 p.m. yesterday a company crew was repairing a damaged section of the wellhead when it broke, resulting in the release of the natural gas. He also noted that the rupture resulted in a significant flow of gas, causing a high-pitched sound.
It was that sound which many residents heard and thought was coming from either their backyard or a next door neighbour.
While some said they only smelled the fumes, others complained of more adverse effects.
“I had to move [to relatives] in Bayfield, St Philip late last night and returned home this morning. It had my sinuses [sinusitis] and asthma real bad. I cud uh taste de gas,” complained Teisha Cole, a resident of nearby Packers, Christ Church as she sniffled and rubbed her nose.
Her neighbour Perry Chase told Barbados TODAY he had to do “nuff praying” as the gas fumes also affected him significantly.
“I was hoarse and my eyes and throat felt like grit. I had to go in the back for my respiratory mask,” he bemoaned.
Frederick Fields, who lived on the Woodbourne main road, said he was put off by the loud sound of the ruptured gas head and the smell more than anything else.
His niece Cheryl Fields, who resides in Packers, had a similar story.
When a team from Barbados TODAY visited the BNOC Woodbourne headquarters this afternoon a fire tender was posted near the well accompanied by a number of fire officers.