PM: Offshore Drilling Not a Present Danger In Belize

And both leaders today also discussed the issue of offshore oil exploration - though, they did so separately. There are two issues: the opposition to offshore drilling, generally; and the fact that block 19 in southern Belize has been awarded to Island Oil a company that reportedly has super-majority ownership by a Guatemalan company.

The Prime minister addressed them both leading off with offshore exploration generally. He said he welcomes the robust debate but the proposed ban seems premature, because Belize is at least two years away from offshore drilling,

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

"I don't know that there can be any immediacy about any issue that you can raise since as I said just yesterday the authorities confirmed to me there can be no possibility of offshore drilling within the next two years. I accept that the debate that has well and truly started is extremely relevant, is extremely important. I encourage it. The government will continue to do its homework in trying to gather all the information that's necessary but I am telling you that there is no need for any hasty decision because there is not any prospect of any offshore drilling taking place or any drilling between the reef and the mainland - as some people have expressed fears about - anytime soon. Let's assume we decide after the right cost benefit analysis that deep offshore ought to continue, there are EIAs to get through, there are environmental compliance plans to be worked out, the whole question of monitoring the whole question of what the companies if they are given the green light would have to do to ensure that as far as is humanly possible nothing would go wrong."

Isani Cayetano, Reporter - Channel 5 News

"And the issue is over a Guatemalan company being given rights to prospect for oil off the cost of Belize in Belizean territory."

PM Dean Barrow

"Is it suggested that this government gave that company?"

Isani Cayetano

"She did not make that suggestion but that's the long and short of it."

PM Dean Barrow

"Well, anything that's relevant will have to be considered before they can be any drilling."

Isani Cayetano

"If it is found out that the owners of this particular company in question are indeed Guatemalans, it brings into question territorial sovereignty and what have you in light of the claim. What does the administration plan to do in that regard."

PM Dean Barrow

"I don't see how that could bring it to question territorial sovereignty If a company is operating in Belize as a matter of a permit given by Belizean authorities and that company happens to be majority owned by Guatemalan citizens, there is no connection between that and territorial integrity."

Alfonso Noble, Reporter - Guardian Newspaper

"The issue here Prime Minister is that they are saying that the block that has been given to them includes the Sapodilla Caye range which is in particular one of the hot button issues in the Guatemalan Territorial claim."

PM Dean Barrow

"But again, the mere fact that the government, not this particular administration but an administration that was legitimate government of Belize gave rights of exploration over the Sapodilla is a function of Sovereignty is proof positive that the government even then was clear that this country owns the Sapodilla range. You can't purport to be given a license for activity over territory that you don't own. So I fail to see how this would in any sense retard the case of Belizean Sovereignty."

Jules Vasquez

"But isn't it tantamount to ceding of territory?"

PM Dean Barrow

"How can that be, you are saying I give you the right because of your expertise to come and explore for oil on my territory. You didn't come in unbidden, you didn't come in unasked, you didn't come in by force, you didn't come in on the basis that you claim that you have a right to come in because the territory belongs to your country, no you ask permission, you applied, you conceded that you were seeking a permit to come on to Belizean territory so I think that's really the end of it."

Briceno on Island Oil: “It Wasn’t Me!”

And while Barrow defended the Island Oil concession, so too did the man who signed it, former Minister Of Natural Resources John Briceno.

Briceno says that what he signed was actually the extension of a concession given out by former Minister of Science and Technology Joseph Cayetano. Remember him, former UDP minister, now retired politician way back in 1998? Well that's how far back the opposition leader went to distance himself from the toxicity of the Island Oil issue.

He explained that Cayetano awarded a concession to a company called AB energy. He explained that In 2001 AB split into US Capital - which took the Onshore area and Island Oil - which took the offshore area. Briceno signed those individual Production Sharing Agreements in 2003 - and says that an American was, and, in fact, is at the helm of Island oil.

Johnny Briceno, Leader of the People's United Party

"I am outraged that any person would dare to accuse me of making an act of treason because I am a Belizean first and foremost and I've been saying over and over this is the only country I have and I am prepared to give my life for this country and I plan to go nowhere. So I take it very seriously when those accusations are made about me. That is something I will be handing over to my attorneys for them to take a look at. But I think it is unfortunate that we have people that are going to raise this red herring about treason when we are supposed to be looking at what is the real issue. In 2003 I am being told then at that time Jerry Kaiser sold his interest of Island oil to Steve Riley another American and at that time Steve Riley was already operating in Guatemala and he decided to take his company that he owns and I am told that he still owns 99 percent of that company to buy over Island Oil. And that is how then Steve Riley when he bought over the company for obvious reasons wanted to sign a new PSA pretty much under the same terms. That agreement was signed in 2004 by myself. First of all the government whenever they sign a production share agreement they never sign over not an inch of land, not a gallon of water or a pint of oil. A production share agreement is simply an agreement where a company is prepared to do what the government cannot do to go and search for oil. Once the oil is found it still belongs to the people and the government of Belize. It is irrelevant if the company or a company is owned by an American, a British, a Taiwanese or Guatemalan or whosoever. Any chances of oil being spilt into our seas and that affect the Belize Barrier Reef it is unacceptable and it is unfortunate yesterday that people decided to try to use this red herring when we have this serious issue to discuss."

Jules Vasquez

"Are you concerned about the state to where it is now which is that that Guatemalan owned company has exploration rights over a section of southern Belize or particularly the Sapodilla Caye range which has been long sought after specifically by the Guatemalan government and now a Guatemalan state owned company has exploration rights over that tract? Does that concern you?"

Johnny Briceno

"I don't know if it is so. I spoke with Mr. King this morning, he is telling me that the last time he checked that Steve Riley owns 99 percent of the company Island Oil and when we discussed it at that time as far as I know at that time he was the owner. I don't know what happened after that."

According to Alistair King who owns one percent of Island Oil, Steve Riley is the owner though he was preceded by another person named Kaiser who did own the Guatemalan company Petdegua.

This one is far from over, but speaking generally about offshore drilling Briceno says he has had a change of heart.

Jules Vasquez

"You accept that your government and you as Natural Resource Minister sanctioned offshore exploration."

John Briceno

"For me obviously I have given you the facts, what took place during my time. Obviously at that time there was euphoria with all Belizeans, Jules, including yourself. When we found oil we tried to see if there was any more oil hoping that we can get some economic benefits in Belize. Today when we look back we could say but hold on; with what we know now, if we knew back then what we know now obviously the approach would have been totally different."
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