Toxic gases in Anzoátegui
The so-called "dune of coke" in Puerto Píritu is a pile of 6 million tons which are worth US 420 million in the global market. That dark hill and the cryogenic gasses are having an impact on the environment
The problem is not only about the coke. An ever-growing black mountain has been announcing environmental damages around one of the biggest industrial complexes in the country. But either by yelling or whispering, inside and outside oil holding industry Pdvsa, they are noting that the pile of oil byproducts that are put on that place is just one side of the coin relative to the harmful effects the industry is causing around Puerto Píritu and local communities.
We need to do something here, Méndez insists. And his denunciation does not only come from the technicians and experts who like him, gathered at the doors of the brand-new Center of Orientation in Energy. The claims come mainly from the staff that operates in Jose cryogenic complex, where in spite of labor pressure, the workers warn that they are facing risks.
"There are no filters at vent towers," Méndez indicates. "That is the contamination source." Lack of maintenance and relaxed industrial processes are -for Méndez- the main reasons of an environmental issue whose denunciations are coming out from Anzoátegui.
The national Government is aware of the case. It is true that the coke hill stopped growing about two months ago, but not due to the end of the issue. And that is essentially the problem, Méndez warns: "The supervisors and workers are not able to work at the mountain because its height exposes themselves to the toxic gases that are expelled from the flares."
It is not about the coke being harmful on its own; in fact, it is a highly pollutant oil byproduct. But there is truly the need of clearing things up, Méndez asserts that the throat itch and rash which have been affecting local residents are above all- the effects of the gas emissions from Jose cryogenic complex.
"Because of its weight and composition, the wind is not able to carry the coke particles further away," he claims. "The main issue are the upgraders from José cryogenic complex, which are expelling an exaggerate volume of toxic gases into the atmosphere."
A State's secret
At Pedro Gómez Rolingson hospital, the reference point for Puerto Píritu, they suspect that something is wrong. Although physicians do not want to declare publicly, they acknowledge among them, that the medical examinations they perform are all about skin infections, pneumonias and respiratory diseases.
What is for sure a fact in Puerto Píritu and the neighboring towns is that at night, those lands are cloaked by some kind of abnormal fog. The José Antonio Anzoátegui industrial complex dates back to more than 20 years and for some time ago, local residents relate that -at night- there exists a mantle of gas which cause them restless nights.
The Government took the main shareholding in the petrochemical plant in 2008. Although such a decision did not need to unleash this situation, Méndez believes that it gave rise to the thread of errors that now are to be faced, since the toxic gases and the coke mountain now encompass the landscape of the highway that connects Puerto Píritu with Barcelona.
In January 2009, there was a fire at Petroanzoátegui dock. "The repair would have taken one month in times of foreign operators, but Pdvsa took three months to accomplish it by then." From that very moment, Venezuela dismissed the idea of exporting coke. On the contrary, Venezuela gathered the first 700,000 metric tons that gave birth to the 28 hectares of coke and sulfur which even on Google Earth can now be seen by the road that surrounds the petrochemical complex.
Negligence, apathy and...
Coke is a fuel that facilitates the iron oxidation and other industrial processes. It is an oil byproduct that, at the western area of the country, Pdvsa obtains through the transformation of the heavy crude oil from Orinoco Oil Belt. While the iron and steel, electrical and nuclear industry request at a rate between US 70 and 120 per ton; here, they throw it over a mountain in Anzoátegui that they have already labeled as "the dune of coke."
Vice-President of Exploration and Production of Petróleos de Venezuela, Eulogio del Pino, indicated a month ago, that from the upgraders from José Industrial Complex a number between 10 and 15 thousand tons per day are produced out of that byproduct. In reply to the warning about contamination in the nearby, he clarified last July 9 that there are around 6 tons of coke in the yards of the industrial complex instead of the 600 million tons that neighbors and trade union members have denounced.
If the worldwide market rates every ton of crude coke from US 70 on, then the coke mountain that Pdvsa improvised amounts to in the most conservative scenario- at least US 420 million. "Everything always goes astray, except corruption of course," Méndez concludes.
As the coke mountain is above 30 meters, Pdvsa set a new place for storing shipments. They have also started to ship it through sea transport.
Some cargo ships are shipping the merchandise to an islet that is 2 nautical miles far from Jose industrial complex. From there, ships with a carrying capacity of 300,000 tons are starting to depart, in order to export coke as it was used to, which was a quite common activity in the past. Pdvsa now intends to diminish the mountain of coke.
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.