ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Tell the truth about Thailand's worst oil spill
Publication Date : 01-08-2013
Blackened seawater and beaches at Rayong’s tourist island of Koh Samet are a sad sight for many. Images of sea birds soaked with crude oil, and officials and volunteers taking part in a clean-up operation, collecting oil from the once-white beach and turquoise water, remind us of past oil spills.
This latest incident was caused by a leak from an offshore pipeline in the Gulf operated by PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC), a subsidiary of the national petroleum and energy company PTT Plc.
This is the fourth major oil spill in Thailand and the worst in terms of volume, according to the Energy Ministry. PTTGC and some officials estimate that 50,000 litres of crude oil were released into the sea as a result of the leak on Saturday morning. But critics have questioned the estimate, pointing to the size of a large, thin slick of oil floating near Koh Samet in an image taken from a satellite.
The impact on the environment is evident, although there have as yet been no reports of marine animals being killed by the spill. Tourism in Rayong and other Eastern Seaboard provinces is likely to be adversely affected since the incident has been widely covered by the international media. Headlines have included "Paradise lost", "Oil spill blackens Thai beach" and "Thai oil spill reaches tourist resort".
The livelihoods of local residents will also be affected since many rely on Koh Samet's natural beauty and marine resources to making a living.
A further cause for concern is the long-term effect on the environment. Oil spills have a long-lasting impact on the marine environment, affecting marine life both directly and indirectly, according to the New Zealand-based environmental organisation Project Jonah. Oil spills can significantly reduce the amount of oxygen available for fish and other aquatic life, according to the United States Environmental Protection and Compliance Agency. There are also fears that chemicals used to clean up spilled oil might harm marine creatures and the ecological system, including coral reefs.
Some state officials and PTTGC executives earlier downplayed the effect of the spill. The company's chairman, Prasert Bunsamphan, reportedly said that 50,000 litres of spilled oil was equal to half the volume carried by an oil tanker truck, "which is not much". A PTTGC vice-president, Pornthep Butrsamphan, was quoted as saying he expected no effect on marine life because "oil is a natural substance that is degradable, although it will take some time".
Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal has ordered an investigation to determine the cause of the leak. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has ordered a contingency plan drawn up to prevent any recurrence.
More has to be done. The company and the authorities involved cannot attempt to hide the truth from the public. In addition to the cause and amount of damage, the authorities must admit the extent of damage to the environment, the local community and the tourism industry. Legal action must be taken against those responsible so that compensation will be paid to those affected.
There must also be rehabilitation of the affected coastal and marine areas. And the government has to come up with concrete measures to prevent another spill in the future. If another incident like this does happen, there must be an action plan and a quicker response so that the affected area is smaller.