Published: October 27, 2016
As Honorable Manuel Heredia had indicated, Cabinet discussed Oceana’s draft offshore drilling moratorium entitled “Clean Ocean, Safe Tourism” on Tuesday, October 25th. At the request of the Prime Minister, Oceana prepared a draft legislation by their attorneys following statements to the national media in May 2015.
Conditions for Lifting Moratorium:
1. The Government of Belize has developed and published as law regulations a comprehensive oil spill response plan and has set aside adequate funds for the implementation of the plan;
2. The Government of Belize has conducted and published a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment of petroleum operations in Belize territorial waters;
3. The Petroleum Regulations have been revised to include detailed requirements regarding the qualifications of companies seeking to conduct offshore petroleum operations and the safety measures that must be taken during those operations;
4. The Petroleum Regulations have been revised to require companies that conduct offshore petroleum operations to contribute to a common fund to be held in trust and managed for the sole purpose of mitigating environmental damage(s) caused during offshore petroleum operations;
5. The Petroleum Act has been amended to authorize the Minister responsible for petroleum to appoint, and he or she has appointed, an environmental pollution control board to ensure that all petroleum operations comply with the requirements of environmental standards and the relevant laws of Belize;
6. The Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations have been amended to add all offshore petroleum operations, including seismic testing, to the list of activities requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment that is set forth in Schedule 1 of those Regulations;
7. An independent economics expert retained by the Government of Belize has conducted a thorough analysis of the costs and benefits of offshore oil development to Belize and concludes that on balance the overall benefits substantially outweigh the costs
8. The people of Belize have approved lifting of the moratorium in a referendum conducted pursuant to the Referendum Act.
Oceana, along with many organizations, received confirmation of the reason GOB wanted to conduct these surveys. According to the GOB, they were only trying to collect data to inform its position on offshore oil, especially in light of conditions, such as a cost benefit analysis. However, Oceana disagrees and stated otherwise. “The Government was going to get a copy of the raw data and the agreed processed reports. The company, TGS, having expended approximately 6 million Belize dollars for both surveys, was going to sell the data to recover its money.”
Oceana stated that only petroleum exploration and oil companies purchase data. This was even confirmed by the Inspector of Petroleum at the Government’s presentation in San Pedro, which he said that no company would spend money without an expectation of getting their money back.
Although no announcement has been formally made on the plans going forward, newly-appointed Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senator Godwin Hulse stated that the controversy is overblown and based on a misunderstanding. As he shared his beliefs with Channel 5 News, he stated how GOB would not abandon its moratorium on any kind of petroleum exploration-related activities around the Barrier Reef.
“One of the conditions that I have seen for lifting of any moratorium, is that you would bring in some expert who would look at the economic cost benefit of lifting it, if you want. But then I asked from my own technical and engineering point of view: how on earth would you know what the benefit would be, if you first don’t do a study to find out what is there? And my understanding of the seismic was just that – it’s not going to – the experts have said that it’s not going to destroy anything; it was just to map out there and it’s part of a mapping that’s coming down all the way from Mexico as I understand it,” said Hulse.
Hulse suggested that too many emotional reactions led Heredia to intervene with the Prime Minister. “Sometimes in this country you know we have to be frank, and I don’t want to make anybody feel bad and so, but my position is, we have to in this country start to make decisions based on good evidence and good facts, man. This emotional drive that we have to everything, where we huff and puff and huff and puff is not good, because it destroys potential opportunities. If you do not know what is there, then how you could ever make a proper decision? It’s not drilling anything; nobody is being contracted to drill; it’s just a big ship out there doing some studies; and as far as I am concerned, proper information should have gone out there before everybody is jumping and huffing and puffing,” ended Hulse.
In the meantime, Oceana in Belize continues to make this a national issue, and will be hosting consultations throughout Belize to engage the public on the latest developments on offshore oil.