By Raffique Shah
September 09, 2012
Yes, you read right—gas! I know the more enlightened in the country might think that Shah finally flipped his lid…he gone off. After all, if anything, for the sake of country, we need more gas.
With a mere ten years of reserves available, we could use vast reservoirs of natural gas to sustain our economic lifeblood, not to add our elevated lifestyles.
The gas that triggers panic among people and creates chaos in the country is the heavily subsidised fuel that powers our all-important “rides”.
A mere rumour of an impending shortage of gas (and here I include diesel), a whisper that oil workers are threatening to take strike action by Christmas or next Carnival, goes viral, as they say in computer-speak, triggering the most irrational, sub-human behaviour you cannot begin to imagine.
It happened last week when many Petrotrin workers walked off the job for a day or two. The moment reports of the industrial action hit the airwaves, motorists headed straight for the nearest gas stations. It didn’t matter that their vehicles were near-full or close to empty, the word “gas” sent them bazodee. Others who did not hear the news, but who saw the queues as they drove by, joined in, adding to the chaos. In a flash, there were traffic gridlocks across much of central and south Trinidad.
Motorists spent hours in queues, punishing themselves and their vehicles, seeking gas. Predictably, stations started running out of fuels, forcing them to hastily scribble “no gas” signs. More panic! Mankind started hunting for gas. Mobile phones went hyperactive, and even the so-called “social networks” joined the chaos: where can we find gas? Indeed, for more than 24 hours, that was all thousands of people did—hunt for gas.
Now, anyone with a modicum of common sense ought to know that it would take at least a week’s shutdown of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery to have an impact on the availability of fuels (including LPG). Petrotrin stores products in huge tanks, as does the main distributor, NP. I don’t know what their storage capacity is, but I imagine they hold several weeks’ supply between what they will have produced for export and for the local market.
So outside of extended industrial action or some major disaster, nationals need not fear for fuel shortages. But try telling that to “gas brains” Trinis. OWTU’s Ancel Roget could be walking the street following some lengthy meetings and saying his comrades, “Boy, ah so hungry, ah have gas pains!” Someone nearby overhears the operative word “gas”, rumours spread, and before you know it, there’s gridlock at gas stations. Let me put our stupidity another way. You know, if, based on empirical data, some minister or a supermarkets’ spokesperson were to warn of impending shortages of critical food commodities, town would laugh it off? Or when WASA advises of planned disruptions that would mean no potable water for an extended period, there is hardly a murmur from affected communities. But even a hint of low gas or no gas and panic sets in, animal behaviour takes over.
The only other threat that comes close to creating the panic gas does is a tsunami warning. I guess after people saw television images of devastation in Japan and before that in Indonesia and other countries, mankind must be messing their drawers at the thought of a tsunami striking us. Luckily, last week’s false warning that followed an earthquake in Costa Rica did not reach many people, so there was no panic.
I dont’t know how many people are aware that outside of the Caribbean being in an earthquake zone (hence the possibility of both major quakes and tsunamis), there are several seabed volcanoes that pose greater threats. Some years ago, I read about one such phenomenon, located across the Atlantic, closer to Europe. Scientists posit that if it erupts violently, it would send a virtual mountain of water hurtling at jet-speed towards the eastern coast of North America and the Caribbean. The consequences of a tsunami of that magnitude are better left unimagined.
On the subjects of gas panic and tsunamis, I read where ODPM head Dr Stephen Ramroop said his organisation has in place an elaborate plan to evacuate people in Port of Spain and surrounding districts in the event of a tsunami. Ram spoke of people gathering in an orderly manner to board buses that would shuttle them to points on Lady Young Road and other elevated locations.
Now, I don’t know if Ram was hallucinating or otherwise out of sorts when he spoke with the reporter. The ODPM and associated agencies have proved to be woefully inadequate if not outright impotent in dealing with minor issues—flooding, a whirlwind here, a sinkhole there. Minor accidents on major arteries lead to hours of traffic pile-ups and hoggish road behaviour. People panic easily and turn trivial incidents into major disasters.
So, be serious, Doc. Tell the people that if ever they are alerted to a tsunami, run like hell, hopefully for higher ground, and keep praying even as they shove aside the infirm, the aged, and maybe children. Tell them there is no plan, so they won’t waste time waiting for transport that will never turn up. Should we ever face such horrendous threat, it would be a case of every man for himself. We panic, “turn beast” over the hint of a gas shortage, but you want to convince me that you have a tsunami plan in place?
Cut the bull, Doc. If ever a major disaster were to strike us—a hurricane, a big quake, a tsunami—not even God would help. We are too stupid to merit His intervention.