Concerns are mounting about a proposed oil terminalling and processing expansion on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius (Statia), after reports of yet another oil spill: this one off the coast of Nigeria. That incident saw nearly 40,000 gallons of oil leak during a transfer from a production/storage vessel to a tanker, before the malfunction was detected and stopped.
Foresight must be a wonderful gift. A handful of complacent civil servants on St. Eustatius already foresee that the new oil terminal is a supposedly done deal and it is all about when and not about if.
But there is one significant aspect that has not been factored into administrative calculations. Some would say that it has more to do with the hand of God and others with the inexact science of foreseeing natural disasters. It is quite simply the eventuality of a full blown earthquake. Before island job hunters, cynics and island council members shrug off this doomsday scenario, some geological evidence would serve as a reminder that history not only repeats itself but does so when least expected.
The last reported earthquake of significant magnitude took place on St. Eustatius on February 8, 1843. Without any warning, its violent seismic waves demolished countless stone houses on the island and transformed the beautiful Methodist Chapel into a pile of rubble. Large chunks broke away from the Quill and sugar factory chimneys tumbled. Earlier accounts are sketchy but historians agree that major earthquakes occurred in 1755, 1766 and 1785. The cause for such geological and human consternation is not hard to find.
St Eustatius is situated within a few kilometers of an active fault where the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates converge.