Failing pipe line infrastructure from Belize Natural Energy is environmentally impacting several parts the Mennonite community of Spanish Lookout. Over the weekend, Plus News received images of what appeared to be a Crude oil leak in the Spanish Lookout community. After contacting several community leaders, we were able to confirm that an underground crude oil pipe broke over the weekend and leaked out over one thousand gallons of raw crude oil into a drainage system, which then flowed into a nearby Creek. We took our cameras to the scene of the spill in Spanish Lookout where heavy duty machines were on site working to get the area cleaned up. Plus News spoke to the Spanish Lookout Petroleum Board Chairman, Alan Reimer, who told us about the latest spill.
Alan Reimer, Spanish Lookout, Petroleum Board Chairman: On Sunday morning I got a text from a person at BNE that they had a spill, and then I sent personnel out there to scout the area and assess the damages. What we found was a ditch filled with crude oil, a layer of crude oil in there flowing down in to a creek. We followed the creek and it went on for about a quarter of a mile, and at the end of the creek we found puddles of crude oil varying from about 5 to 50 gallons per puddle so all in all I think we must have lost an excess of about 1000 gallons.
In 2006, BNE met with community members to discuss the laying down of underground Crude oil pipe lines. According to Reimer, BNE representatives ensured residents that spills would not affect the Spanish Lookout community. However, Reimer says, this has been the third oil spill in less than 16 months.
Alan Reimer, Spanish Lookout, Petroleum Board Chairman: I still remember our old friend Jim (…). Back in 2006 when we were negotiating, we were promised by the then oil company and the then personnel that we would put a pipeline underground, you would never see it; it’ll never leak. Then, an old man was sitting back and was saying, “Gentlemen, leaks will happen. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.” He was so true. We have been going through 3 spills now over the last 16 months that have all been an excess of 500 gallons to about 1500 gallons.
Raw crude oil presents several environmental and health risks, including water contamination, crop contamination, leukemia and cancer. Remier says that these risks are of major concern to community members
Alan Reimer, Spanish Lookout, Petroleum Board Chairman: Well first of all it was the contamination and also never knowing what is all in the crude oil. When we have refined oil, we rely on most of the toxics having been removed, but when a raw crude oil comes to the service, nobody knows what’s in there. So health issue is first and foremost. We’ve had enough of that, we’ve had experience, and then after that we have the nausea, the smell, the obnoxious smell of it. It looks bad. Vegetation dies and then what worries us the most is when the clean up,,, it happens along creeks where there is dense vegetation, they have to go and remove about 50% of the vegetation. After that it’s erosion problems. That is what concerns us.
So what has been causing crude oil to spill into the community so frequently? The Petroleum Board Chairman believes that it all boils down to faulty infrastructure and a lack of capital needed to address the issue.
Alan Reimer, Spanish Lookout, Petroleum Board Chairman: It bears down to the conclusion that the infrastructure is failing, it’s obviously failing. Is there money to fix it? I don’t know, we’re getting mixed messages. Do we have bills to pay as a country? Yes! Massive bills to pay. So, it sometimes feels like we’re between a rock and a hard place with the oil stuff. I don’t know how much further environmental degradation we will see in the future.
Reporter: What are some of those mixed messages you have been getting?
Alan Reimer, Spanish Lookout, Petroleum Board Chairman: We have bills to pay, therefore oil revenue is a major contributor to the government’s (…). Oil production has been on the decline now for many years, oil prices are low, the bills are getting higher. Where is the balance between protecting the environment and paying our bills?