Peru halts oil activities at Repsol refinery in wake of spill

Lima, Jan 31 (EFE).- The Peruvian government on Monday halted all activities involving vessels loading and unloading oil at the La Pampilla refinery, operated by Spanish petroleum firm Repsol, after on Jan. 15 at least 10,396 barrels of crude were inadvertently spilled into the ocean, contaminating at least two dozen of the country’s beaches.

Peruvian Environment Minister Ruben Ramirez made the announcement at a press conference, saying that “Repsol has not provided the certainty that it can deal with a new spill” at La Pampilla, Peru’s largest refinery processing some 120,000 barrels of petroleum per day.

Ramirez said that this suspension of activity will be maintained until the firm provides Peruvian authorities with “the technical guarantees that another (spill) will not occur in the sea,” guarantees that include modifying contingency plans and undertaking additional more drastic measures.

In addition, Repsol must present “a management plan for ocean oil spills” and its facilities will have to be certified once again by the appropriate authorities to validate their safety and integrity.

The suspension, which was ordered in a resolution issued by Peru’s Environmental Evaluation and Enforcement Agency (OEFA), includes La Pampilla’s four maritime terminals for supplying crude, including the modern mono-buoy mooring installed in 2019, the first of its kind in the South American country.

In contrast to the mono-buoy mooring, which an oil tanker can move around during the unloading operation, the other terminals require a tanker to maintain a fixed position, attached to different buoys around the petroleum collector platform.

It was at Terminal No. 2 of the second type where the accident causing the catastrophic spill occurred during an unusually high ocean level due to the tsunami created by the recent eruption of the volcano in Tonga.

Meanwhile, the Mare Doricum oil tanker involved in the spill remains anchored in the Bay of Callao under orders not to move from the site and the posting of a bond for 150 million soles (about $39 million).

The crude that spilled during the accident has spread over some 50 kilometers (31 miles) of coastline from Ventanilla, in Callao province, the port region near Lima, to the town of Chancay, in the northern part of Lima province.

The oil has spread to cover about 11.9 square kilometers (4.6 square miles), including beaches and ocean waters, according to the latest report provided by Peruvian authorities.

Regarding the measures taken Repsol to clean up the affected areas, Minister Ramirez said that the company “has not demonstrated clear clean-up and remediation actions vis-a-vis what occurred.”

Ramirez last Friday had said that Peruvian authorities were not satisfied with the work undertaken by the Spanish company and would pursue the necessary measures with the Attorney General’s Office and OEFA.

Meanwhile, OEFA said that Repsol had failed to meet the initial deadlines imposed for the clean-up of the spill, warning the firm that it had exposed itself to several fines that could rise to 18.4 million soles ($4.8 million).

Initially, the firm had called the spill a minor incident and reported that only 0.16 barrels of crude (about 6.6 gallons) had spilled, and Peruvian authorities did not learn of the true size of the spill until crude began to wash up on the Ventanilla beaches the following day.

In a statement, Repsol said on Sunday that it had deployed more than 6,100 meters (20,000 feet) of barriers to contain the floating oil at the beaches most affected by the disaster, adding that it expected to have deployed 10,000 meters of barriers in the coming days when new equipment acquired by the firm arrives.

The company also has more than 2,000 people working on cleaning up the beaches, along with 144 units of heavy machinery, 10 skimmers (suction machines to remove oil from the surface of the sea), 32 large vessels, 44 smaller vessels and 26 storage tanks.

In the coming days another 200 tons of clean-up and containment equipment is scheduled to arrive, equipment that Repsol has invested some $28 million in acquiring.

In addition, the Spanish firm has engaged the services of consulting firms such as Lamor and Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), which specialize in providing solutions to environmental incidents of this kind, and it has said it is also using the most advanced satellite technology to monitor the clean-up efforts.

EFE fgg/dub/dmt/bp

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