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#382537 - 05/08/06 09:00 PM Oil discovery threatens Belize's reputation as pristine haven
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Oil discovery threatens Belize's reputation as pristine haven
May 7, 2006

By Mica Rosenberg

Spanish Lookout, Belize - A Mennonite farmer watches a black plume of smoke spew from an oil well near his house in western Belize, the only visible sign that this tiny central American nation is the world's newest oil producer.

For over 50 years wildcat oil companies have been drilling in this former British colony bordering Guatemala and Mexico, but this year for the first time a joint venture between Belize Natural Energy (BNE) and Denver-based investment firm CHx Capital finally struck the black gold.

In March BNE, a small firm backed by about 80 Irish and US investors, declared the oil find commercially viable - big news for a sleepy country the size of Massachusetts.

The 6 million barrels of proven reserves in the Spanish Lookout area, inhabited mainly by a tight-knit community of Mennonite settlers, is a drop in the ocean of world oil supplies, but with crude topping $70 a barrel, expectations are high.

However, some worry that further oil exploration could ruin Belize's reputation as a pristine tourist haven, with a barrier reef declared a UN world heritage site. Over 200 000 foreigners a year visit this country of just 280 000 people.

"We have to make sure not to skew the whole economy of the country by becoming dependent on oil," Prime Minister Said Musa says in an interview in the capital Belmopan.

"In everything we do, environmental conservation and protection is a central concern. We can't sacrifice that for short-term gain."

BNE is now pumping over 2 000 barrels a day of high quality light sweet crude, similar to the prized West Texas Intermediate grade.

The oil is shipped to the US for refining, since Belize has no processing infrastructure of its own.

BNE estimates there could be more than 15 million barrels of oil in Belize, whose economy has depended almost entirely on tourism, sugar cane and some citrus, bananas and fish products.

Environmental groups, however, are concerned the find in Spanish Lookout will spur more exploration in southern Belize's Sarstoon Temash National Park, an area long suspected to have oil reserves.

Encompassing 16 600ha of relatively undisturbed wetlands, the park is home to hundreds of species of birds, tropical butterflies and animals, including manatees, ocelots and endangered jaguars. Indigenous Mayan communities want to promote it as an ecotourism destination.

Texas-based US Capital Energy is ready to begin seismic testing in the area, but advocates for the park's protection say exploration could damage a rare delicate lowland moss.

The German-speaking Mennonite community, where all of BNE's current operations are concentrated, also has environmental concerns.

Peter Dueck, whose house overlooks one of the drill sites, says everybody is worried about the smell and the pollution. "We have rain water collection systems for drinking water. What if that smoke is poisonous?" he asks, watching natural gas burn off the well near a cow pasture.

But most of the community's concerns are overwhelmed by the promise of royalties they will receive.

The Mennonites, who settled in Belize two generations ago and cut down the jungle to build a network of profitable farms and dairies, are promised 5 percent of the government's 7.5 percent take of oil profits.

Between taxes and royalties, the country will end up collecting over 30 percent of BNE's gross income.

"Belize was caught by surprise by this bonanza. They knew there was oil all along but now that it's commercial, it's a different ballgame," says Godsman Ellis, the head of the Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs.

"The country will close its eyes to environmental degradation when the dollar is flashed." - Reuters

Live and let live

#382538 - 05/10/06 03:35 PM Re: Oil discovery threatens Belize's reputation as pristine haven
Spew-black smoke
skew the economy
spur more exploration
damage delicate moss
smoke is poisonous
smell and pollution
environmental degradation - dollar
caught by suprise

Think y'all better get to the mainland quick and hug a tree before thy are ALL GONE frown frown frown The Eve of Destruction is upon You laugh

#382539 - 05/10/06 04:08 PM Re: Oil discovery threatens Belize's reputation as pristine haven
Belikin Bill Offline
Rykat is a pinko tree hugger now. The end of the world is in sight. laugh

#382540 - 05/14/06 10:33 PM Re: Oil discovery threatens Belize's reputation as pristine haven
Laguna Punta Offline
...me thinks the article is an environmental issue. It stinks!!!! :rolleyes:
Gone fishing!!

#382541 - 05/17/06 02:16 AM Re: Oil discovery threatens Belize's reputation as pristine haven
Marty Online   happy
Toledo indigenous group sues to block oil exploration
In the Belize City Supreme Court today, the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management filed a motion asking for judicial review of a government permit granted to a U.S. company to conduct seismic testing within the Sarstoon Temash National Park. Following the court proceedings, representatives of five Toledo villages: Barranco, Sunday Wood, Crique Sarco, Conejo and Midway met at the Radisson Hotel for a press conference to explain their position to the media. According to SATIIM's executive director, Greg Choc, Belmopan's decisions have left them with no other choice.

Greg Choc, Executive Director, SATIIM
“Today we have come here to place our hopes, aspirations and the dignity of our people in the hands of the Supreme Court. Today Monday, fifteenth of May 2006, the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management filled a suit against the Government of Belize for violation of the National Park Act, Environmental Protection Act, breach of co-management agreement governing the park and the violation of Belize’s international legal obligations under the Ramsar convention for the protection of wetlands. We have seen in Belize that the law is a flexible tool that Government uses as they please. For the past years the Government of Belize has used the law to exclude the desperately poor Maya and Garifuna people from accessing natural resources in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, even when they were aware that the communities had traditionally used those resources for generations and still depend on the for their survival.

“But when it comes to a wealthy foreign corporation the government say can cut trial, set off dynamite, extract oil and they don’t even have to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment or a monitoring mitigation plan. This selective application of the law is a violation of the fundamental human right of indigenous people of Belize.”

“Look at the electricity for example; the construction of Mollejon, the construction of Challilo came under the assumption that we will have cheaper electricity. Our bills were going to go down that was the premise under which the dams were constructed, and there is another one the Rock of Falls and still the premise is electricity is self reliance. But that doesn’t really mean electricity will be cheaper because the interest of Belizean people is never factored into the equation of these mega projects.”

The Toledo organisations have organized a legal team to make their points in court. Lead attorney Dean Barrow is flanked by Antoniette Moore and Lois Young. This evening Barrow maintained that the trio will present evidence that the Musa administration broke the law when it gave U.S. Capital Energy Belize Limited permission to explore for oil within the national park.

Dean Barrow, Lead Attorney
“I know Greg had said that at a meeting he had with the geology people or with a number of government officials; they had claimed that the Petroleum Act overrides the National Park Act. Well from what we’ve seen that isn’t so. When you look at the Petroleum Act and that act talks about going on to land for purposes of exploration it expressly makes it subject to conditions attached by the minister or to any other considerations set out in other laws. So it does seem to me that the National Park Act trumps the Petroleum Act in that respect. Not necessarily trumps it, the Petroleum Act itself makes it clear that it that is subject to laws governing the use of land, so in over view apart from the other issues that Greg raised the violation are in consistency with Belize’s international obligations under the Ramsar treaty. There is quite squarely a violation of this National Park Act. He also made the point that the Environmental Protection Act which requires the Department of the Environment to give permits for projects that may affect the environment only after and E.I.A., Environmental Impact Assessment has been done. That also seems to have been violated because as far as we can determine no E.I.A. has in fact been conducted. So primarily because of the violation of the National Park Act but also because of the violation of the Environmental Protection Act and the violation of Belize’s treaty obligations under Ramsar, the legal team feels certain that this permit in fact is made without proper jurisdiction, made without proper authority and in fact is in violation of these several bits legislation and treaty obligations of which I spoke.”

“The Chief Justice is ill and it means there is only one Civil Court Judge operating at the moment, Mr. Justice Awich the court calendar is extremely crowded, so there will have to be a tremendous push on our part to try and have this matter, the matter of the permission and the injunction application being heard as urgently as possible. So it was just filled this afternoon. We will start harassing the registrar tomorrow.”

Tonight we understand that SATIIM will first file for a stay and then a restraining order against the U.S. company until a final decision can be made in the matter. The Sarstoon-Temash National Park is made up of forty one thousand nine hundred and eighty eight acres. The concession zone of U.S. Capital Energy covers some five hundred thousand acres, stretching from Monkey River to the Sarstoon. Choc maintains that they are not opposed to development in the south but want the national park taken out of the oil company's concession zone.

#382542 - 05/17/06 12:06 PM Re: Oil discovery threatens Belize's reputation as pristine haven
give em the park they can drill horizontally under it anyway laugh


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