Rapid Assessment of the Environmental and Health Impacts of the Estancia Oil Spill Incident

Posted:

April 13, 2015

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) wrought havoc to the greater part of the Visayan Region and resulted to the grounding of the 32-MW Power Barge 103 on the shores of Brgy. Botongon, Municipality of Estancia in the province of Iloilo. As of December 14, 2013, the Philippine Coastguard reported that almost 2 km of the coastline had been dispersed with 200,000 liters of bunker oil. The power barge, which contained 1.4 million liters of bunker oil, is owned by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) and operated by the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR).

The oil spill had a great impact to the economic activity in Estancia, as most residents depend mainly on the municipal fishing ground for subsistence. The incident also caused residents of Botongon who had direct contact with contaminated water and were exposed to ambient air pollution to experience various respiratory and skin illnesses. Some residents were even forced to evacuate to safer grounds in the Poblacion where tents were setup by foreign donors.

On December 21, 2013, AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Center for Environmental Concerns and Bayan Muna Panay, conducted a rapid assessment of the environmental and health impacts the oil spill may have brought on to the area.  

One of the salient findings of the study is that the responsible parties, local and national government failed to provide immediate and appropriate oil spill emergency response and restoration measures that would have addressed the urgent needs of the affected community.

There was a clear violation of the principles and provisions outlined in the Republic Act No. 9483 or the Oil Pollution Compensation Act of 2007. The said law declares the state’s commitment to implement the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage and the 1992 International Convention of the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage.

As a result of the rapid assessment, Agham strongly recommends that further scientific investigations, such as comprehensive environmental impact assessment and hazard analysis of the oil spill to the coastal resources and communities be conducted. The main purpose of the study is to come up with necessary rehabilitation procedures that could be undertaken and could be a basis for the just compensation to the affected communities and sectors.

As part of the oil spill response, it is crucial to regularly monitor the level of benzene and sulphur dioxide and other toxic vapors and persistent pollutants to ascertain the safety implications on the residents and the environment. There is also a need to set-up a community-based health monitoring system that would capacitate the community to assess the health conditions of the affected residents of Brgy. Botongon.

On top of the monitoring, a quick, effective and careful implementation of a rehabilitation and restoration plan of impacted coastal areas is required to clean up the dense bunker fuel that choked mangroves and coastal resources.

In terms of policy, there is a need to review the existing RA 9483 or the Oil Pollution Compensation Act and how it is currently being implemented. As an archipelagic country that is constantly visited by typhoons and associated environmental catastrophes, the increasing number of maritime disasters occurring in the Philippine waters is a strong wake up call to assess the effectiveness of the law.

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