Thoughts beyond the Novel DoD.3—Isla OIL Refinery

Once open a time—millions of human years ago to be exact—the remnants of animal and plant debris became oil. Mother Nature during this expanse of time transmuted dead life into black gold, using heat and pressure. To say that it runs modern society and fuels serious political tensions is an understatement. Take, for example, a deal that former President Donald J. Trump mustered up with OPEC+ (consortium of the world’s crude oil producers) in 2020 that jacked up the price of oil production by at least ten percent, causing the price of oil to skyrocket in recent times. There is nothing to brag about certain political tensions fueled by oil (no pun intended), especially when the current President, Joe Biden, is blamed for it. (It is reminiscent of what happened to former President Jimmy Carter who was blamed for something he did not orchestrate either.) Good news, that 2020 deal has expired; and the price of oil is going down, at least temporarily as Saudi Arabia very recently claimed there is no more surplus oil to be pumped!

Isla Refinery, Curaçao

While oil fluctuates in the market place, it also contributes to the production of global air pollution. Curaçao played a key role in contributing to this state of affair, and it has suffered from it. Its contribution to and associated impacts appear as a footnote in DAUGHTERS OF THE DANCE, page 19.

It was World War I that introduced Venezuelan to the world market. By1919, the investment and exportation of the oil increased tremendously; and during World War II, the oil, which was refined in Curaçao, was the most secure provider of oil to the United States, helping it and the allies to win World War II over Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Early in its history, Curaçao was a colony of the Dutch; and the Royal Dutch Shell capitalized on its location—about 40 miles north of the coast of Venezuela—to use its natural harbor capability to handle massive barges and tankers (the Schottegat). After  the opening of the Isla Refinery in 1915, Curaçao shipped the oil from the largest oil reserve of the world, Venezuela. (The political and economic strife of the current situation is not the topic of this blog.)

The Isla Refinery located on the Isla Peninsula in the Baal of Asiento, on the southwestern coast of Curaçao, was inaugurated in 1918 by the Koninklijke Nederlandse Petroleum Maatschappij, which later became Shell.

Prior to this international event, Curaçao was a backwater that barely produced enough for its people who struggled to survive. The wealth of the Royal Dutch Shell was spread throughout the Island to  becoming the “rich neighbor to the north” and establishing a local “floating market.”

The presence of Shell is gone, but the effects of its refinery has caused an economic shift to tourism, leaving its citizens to bring back its earlier charm. Still, the refinery has not been totally shut down but for a prominent anti-refining group (Stichting SMOC)[i] fighting for a majority of Curasaos who want it gone; it is big, ugly, and spewing toxins into the air and water wells.

Tourism at Willemstad

Dr. Erin Pulster was one of the first anti-refinery researchers. In 2015, Dr. Pulster obtained her Ph.D. (Environmental Chemistry, University of South Florida) with her thesis,Assessment of Public Health Risks Associated with Petrochemical Emissions Surrounding an Oil Refinery,” in which she dealt with the widely known pollutants sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM) and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAHs). This thesis was held under embargo until September 2016.

Finally, the Curacao government decided to definitely close down its lucarative oil refinery, forcing 6.000 employees and their families to find their livelihood somewhere else in 2018.

The Cosmos Chronicle reported, too, that “The Isla Refinery was operated by PdVSA from Venezuela, but the Dutch diplomats did their best to cut off all relations with neighboring Caracas, Venezuela, to close down the oil refinery.”

But that is not the end of shutting it down entirely and cleaning its shocking environmental damage. Its emissions were one of the most polluting in the entire world for many years. Even a local court decision, declaring the level of emissions “unlawful,” did not bring about any swift changes. As a result, the people living in the vicinity of the refinery were exposed to more than damaging emissions on a daily basis. The air may be cleaner now, but a lot of repairing is still to be done. The COVID pandemic also precipitated its early closing. Update on its closing.

Indigenous People of the Orinoco

As a sidebar, it was the first Indigenous People of Venezuela who were aware of the black gold (hydrocarbons), which they used for medicinal and illumination purposes. They collected this oil from small creeks. They impregnated blankets near the seepages and then wrong the oil out. They also used asphalt made from oil for caulking their canoes and impregnating the sails of their boats.


[i] E.g., the Schoon Milieu op Curaçao (Clean Environment on Curaçao) Foundation

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