The asphalt lake and the fresh water lake

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On Thursday October 17, 2013, the sleuths went to the Asphalt lake. On invitation of Karel Aster, the director of the Asphalt Lake Recovery company, we got access to the normally closed terrain and we got an explanation of the origin and exploitation of the asphalt lake from Karel personally. Afterwards he brought us to the adjoining freshwater lake in Emmastad where we were free to explore the terrain.

Buskabaai 20131017 002 smallFirst a bit of history from a report from the Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie): During World War II, the Isla refinery produced a large quantity of gasoline and aviation fuel for the Allied forces. The market for these light oil products outperformed the market for heavy oil products. Thus, the remainder of the heavy Venezuelan oil (an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of asphalt) was dumped in the Buscabaai next to the refinery. Still, the lake is filled with about one million tonnes of asphalt. According to Shell, during the period 1983-1985 a contractor (Nareco) has scooped 0.5 million tonnes of asphalt for use in the refinery on a financially sound basis for Shell as well the contractor. The contract with the contractor and the asphalt lake were included in the sale by Shell of its Curacao assets in 1985. The estimate in 1985 was that in the next ten years everything would be cleaned up. The asphalt-sand mix at the bottom of the lake would eventually be burned in an incinerator. After Shell left, the clean-up/processing went on for a few years, but was then stopped.

Since 2010 the Asphalt Lake Recovery company has picked up the processing of asphalt to a commercially useful fuel. The company has its own processing refinery, storage tanks and jetties to receive half products and to deliver endproducts to tankers. It is expected that the whole asphalt lake will be processed in the coming 4 years.

After the explanation by Karel Aster we went to the remains of the old water tanks in this area. On the Werbata map from the beginning of 1900 these water tanks are already mentioned. On our way to these tanks we passed the place where currently the asphalt is removed from the lake. A large excavator removes pieces of the very sticky asphalt, rinses these in the (ground)water to remove much of the clay and deposits these in a waiting dump truck. What surprised me is that the layer of asphalt is much thinner than I expected. The layer is only a few decimeters high as can be seen in one of the pictures.

The water tanks are reasonably intact but almost completely covered by tar. Apparently there has been a period when the polluted water was much higher than now and this resulted in a thick tar coating of the lower water tanks. Only the highest water tank has a clean upper part. On the inside of this tank you can what level the polluted water has reached in the past.

We walked back over the asphalt to the cars. The asphalt is thick enough to support you provided you don't stand still for a long time. After a while you can see the footprint in the asphalt.

We drove around the asphalt lake and went from there to the fresh water lake to the North of the Asphalt lake. This lake has year-round fresh water. Strangely enough we didn't see the normal water birds in and around this lake. We did see more of these birds in the asphalt lake than here. 
I tried to walk around the lake but got a surprise when I was at two thirds of this journey. Suddenly I felt a sting in my hand. A bee had landed and apparently was warning me that I had trespassed their nesting area. Soon more bees were swarming around me. I started running and passed the nest - an old termine nest in a tree - fully covered by bees. In such a situation the vegetation is far less of a hindrance than when normally walking. I was able to escape the attack with only about 10 stings. But it was clear that rounding the lake was no option. On my way back I met Fred and André. Fred still wanted to investigate the area on this side of the lake so we went on avoiding the area around the nest. But in the end also this attempt stopped on a gate with a house behind it. On the map with the track you can see that this is a house at the Margrietlaan.

We went back and rejoined with the remainder of the group. Eddy and Dirk already left. We, Carel, Michèle, Fred, André and I, took a long rest and decided after a while to end this trip early.

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