Caribbean activists want regional talks on potential impacts of Guyana’s oil production

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By Vishani Ragobeer

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Caribbean activists, fearful of the risk to Caribbean islands from any potential oil spill in Guyanese waters, say there is need for regional talks to iron out their concerns.

“This is not only about the impacts to Guyana,” Jamaican author and environmental activist Diana McCaulay said during an online consultation on the planned development of Exxon’s Yellowtail project.

Some 250,000 barrels of oil are expected to be produced daily when the Yellowtail well begins production. The Yellowtail discovery was announced in April 2019 as ExxonMobil’s 13th discovery in the giant Stabroek Block. Other developments include Liza phases One and Two, and Payara.

Jamaican author and environmental activist Diana McCaulay

McCaulay expressed concern that any oil spill in Guyanese waters could affect Trinidad and Tobago, some of the Lesser Antilles, the south coast of Jamaica and even as far as the Dominican Republic.

She said Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) “is extremely long and there must be enough time for everyone affected- which is not just Guyana- to look at it and for there to be a discussion between our governments.”

EPA representative Candacie Brower- Thompson said that the EIA is a public document and told Macaulay to “feel free” to share it.

McCaulay was at a public consultation hosted by Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and consultancy firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) on the impact of the Yellowtail development.

This public consultation comes after Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), ExxonMobil’s local affiliate, submitted its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to the EPA.

This submission was made as part of the oil company’s intentions to secure permission to produce oil at the Yellowtail well. If approved, development at Yellowtail could earn Guyana significant revenue, since it is projected to be the largest development offshore.

A screenshot taken from a presentation by the Environmental Resources Management (ERM) consultancy firm

Though oil from the Yellowtail well would be produced offshore Guyana, consultants from the ERM acknowledged that an oil spill would impact other Caribbean countries.

The local and regional participants agreed that wider consultations are necessary. And until that happens, they contended that the EPA’s approval should be withheld.

But, ERM representative Jason Wiley said that the consultations were conducted within Guyana because the Yellowtail project falls under Guyana’s jurisdiction.

When grilled by Guyanese Environmental Engineer Dr. Maya Trotz, however, Wiley disclosed that an actual study of the impact of the Yellowtail development might have on other Caribbean countries was not done. Instead, he said that baseline data from the EIAs of other oil projects were used.

The statements made prompted other concerns. Dr Jerry Jailall, a member of the Guyana Oil and Gas Governance network, asked: “… if the project goes awry and damages the coastlines of others, who pays? Esso or Guyana?”

Several others raised questions about insurance for such an unplanned event and even the measures in place to respond to an oil spill. Answers to those questions were vague but the ERM consultants posited that large oil spills are considered “highly unlikely” because of the “extensive preventive measures” employed.

A screenshot taken from a presentation by the Environmental Resources Management (ERM) consultancy firm showing the worst case scenario if there is an oil spill from the Yellowtail well

It was also highlighted that there was between a five and 40 per cent chance that an oil spill would affect the coast of Guyana; mention was not made of the impact on other countries where the ocean’s currents are expected to wash the oil away.

Trinidadian Gary Aboud of the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) group, contended that people’s concerns – particularly about the oil spill – were being trivialised.

“I am not aware of a single oil company on the planet who has not had accidents and spills.

“So the preparatory planning – the EIA – cannot hoodwink the concerns that we are having,” Aboud stressed.

As such, Aboud called for the EIA to include specific details on the personnel trained and equipment procured to respond to a potential oil spill. If not, he fears that the Caribbean space – including all of the marine animals – may be threatened and that would prove devastating for the entire region.

The public consultation, held via a Zoom meeting, got underway at 18:00 hrs on Thursday and though it was initially scheduled to end at 20:00 hrs, it lasted almost to 23:00 hrs. This was due to the plethora of concerns and questions.

This consultation follows several scoping meetings held. Individuals can send written comments to the EPA up to December 15, 2021.

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