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#400060 - 02/11/11 09:58 AM Barrow says Court gave OK to drill in Nat'l Park
Marty Offline

Barrow believes Court gave green light to drill in National Park

Dean Barrow

One of the many controversial issues in oil exploration is government’s intent to allow a US company to drill in the Sarstoon Temash National Park in Toledo. Environmentalists have been vocal against it, but Prime Minister Dean Barrow has said before and reiterated on Wednesday that the deal has been sealed. The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), which manages the protected area, had challenged G.O.B.’s decision in 2006 and according to Barrow; the court gave the green light to drill in the park.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I made it absolutely plain that the Government has no intention of stopping the exploration process, especially not in the Sarstoon Temash Park which I believe is still being co-managed by Mr. Ch’oc’s organization. That area, the geologists say, is perhaps the highest potential area in the country and the question of the legality of drilling in a National Park went to Court and the Supreme Court gave a decision saying that this was perfectly consistent, perfectly in order. That remains the position of the Government and that position will not change. So, US Capital Energy which is the company that has the concession I think is no more than six to nine months away from actually beginning to drill.”

Channel 5

#400061 - 02/11/11 09:59 AM Re: Barrow says Court gave OK to drill in Nat'l Park [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

BELPO President believes P.M. misinterpreted Court Ruling

That was the prime minister’s take on Wednesday and by today the reaction has been fast and furious. SATIIM issued a release saying that the P.M.’s statement shows complete disregard for the law. It goes on to quote Gregory Ch’oc, the Executive Director, as saying that; “SATIIM will challenge any illegal action in order to preserve the rule of law in our country. We are not saying that development cannot go ahead, rather that the Government must recognize the legally bound sanctity of our national parks.” The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy also issued a statement, saying that Barrow has misinterpreted the court’s decision. BELPO President, Candy Gonzalez, explained their position via phone today.

Via Phone: Candy Gonzalez, President, BELPO

Candy Gonzalez

“The SATIIM Case had to do with issues on oil exploration within the Sarstoon Temash National Park. It’s has four parts to it; two parts had to do with the Forestry Department, one had to do with the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations and the fourth had to do with activity that’s allowed within the national park. And the court, in the part that I believe the Prime Minister is referring to, is the section where the court made the decision that seismic testing, which is something that you do when you’re looking for oil, came under the definition of scientific research, which is allowed within a national park. Now, although we believe that that’s in the definition of scientific research, that was the decision. Seismic testing is only done when you’re looking for oil. It does not include when you start drilling for oil. That’s where we come into a belief that there is a misinterpretation by the prime minister of that decision. We are contesting his statement that the court in the SATIIM decision, was saying that it’s okay to drill within the national park. We absolutely reject that as being any part of the SATIIM decision. We’d like to encourage everybody to sign the petition calling for a referendum and let the people across the country be heard; their opinions in terms of oil exploration and exploitation both offshore and within the protected areas of Belize.”

According to SATIIM, an environmental impact assessment was done in 2007, but it only covered “seismic activities associated with the exploration phase”. If Capital Energy intends to drill, another E.I.A. would have to be done.

Channel 5

#400062 - 02/11/11 09:59 AM Re: Barrow says Court gave OK to drill in Nat'l Park [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

PM’s Call to “Drill At Will” In Protected Areas

Last night we reported plentifully on the Prime Minister's quarterly press conference, but the event was two hours long! And while there were no major revelations, there were many newsworthy comments.

We didn't get to visit all of them last night, but tonight, we have reloaded the press conference to examine some newsworthy remarks.

First, the Prime Minister re-stated his government's absolute determination to drill in onshore protected areas, specifically, the Sarstoon Temash National Park:

PM Dean Barrow
"Insofar as national parks that are not offshore, onshore national parks are concern - I made it absolutely plain that the government has no intention of stopping the exploration process especially not in the Sarstoon/Temash Park which I believe is still being co- managed by Mr. Choc's organization. That area, the geologist says is perhaps the highest potential area in the country and the question of the legality of drilling in a national park went to court and the Supreme Court gave a decision saying that this was perfectly consistent, perfectly in order. That remains the position of the government and that position will not change."

"US Capital Energy which is the company that has the concession I think is no more than 6 - 9 months away from actually beginning to drill and certainly once they reach that point, drill they will, and hopefully we can find some more oil that will help us to begin to meet with some degree of ease these Superbond payments."

"This government is always prepared to dialogue with the conservationists and I can see our undertaking not to - as we've done with the OPIC concession - not to award exploration licenses in certain areas. A great deal of work would have to be done to determine which areas should qualify. There are top flight environmentalists who tell us that more damage is done by far with the land clearing and the putting in of pastures and the planting of corn and that sort of thing. So my point is that while we are not going to turn a deaf ear to the entreaties of the conservationists, a lot of joint effort will have to go in the exercise of determining which area should perhaps be marked off as untouchable."

And what about the 14 protected areas in the Maya Mountain Masif that have been awarded to a company called Paradise Energy?

According to Director Of Geology and Petroleum Andre Cho, they will have to get environmental clearance:…

Andre Cho
"In regards to the protected areas, I know a lot of people are saying that there is a lot of protected areas there. There is a protected area in US Capital's concession license area and for the them to work in there they have to go through a process; they have to get a permit from the Forest Department and a permit from the Environment and do an EIA if that is necessary."

Cho says Paradise Energy will have to get clearance for every area they choose to explore. And while onshore exploration has the executive green light, granting new blocs in the offshore area is on hold for three months to see if the "Coalition To Save Our National Heritage" can get enough signatures to trigger a referendum.

The PM said the victory is OCEANA's not COLA's happy campers who slept in front of his office:

PM Dean Barrow
"I see the people who had their camp out not too far from the administration building in Belmopan - claim victory. Well that's alright, nobody wants to burst their bubble. Ms. Ramos - they camped out I think on the Tuesday that the Cabinet made their decision - Ms. Ramos who interviews me from the Amandala from the Thursday before will tell you that I indicated to her that we would - subject only to Cabinet - we would, in fact, in response to OCEANA, undertake not to give back out the concession. So there is a little bit of a difficulty with timing where COLA is concerned but as I say in the sense that it is perhaps a victory for all the environmentalists, let COLA have its share of the victory. I also learned from Mr. Cho that an offshore well was in this country....like something like 18 offshore well had been drilled, The last one was done in 1997 in 2000 feet of water, but 19 wells and not a squeak from anybody and if is such a dangerous thing I wonder how on earth nothing happened throughout that period."

And moving from oil to the budget, the Prime Minister says that the new budget will be presented on the second Friday in March and it will show increased revenues from the oil industry and more tax paid by you the consumer in the form of GST revenue:….

PM Dean Barrow
"Business tax and royalties on petroleum total 49.3 million dollars and that is 27.4 million higher than the similar period in fiscal year 2009/2010. In the case of GST, collections rose by 24.8 million to 140.9 million but I have to point out that is still below the target of 155 million. We expect that this will be a good budget. Certainly and principally because I repeat what I said a couple of weeks ago, there are going to be no new taxes on the Belizean people for this fiscal year."

And that budget will not apparently reflect the wisdom of the IMF which recently issued its country report on Belize.

PM Dean Barrow
"There has not been any exercise to go through the IMF recommendations. I would make a confession...but I don't want to insult the IMF so I will just leave it at that - we haven't done that exercise."

Adele Ramos, Amandala
"Are you now satisfied with the full report that's been released?"

PM Dean Barrow
"Well I don't know that it matters."

And carping generally about multilaterals the PM also complained about the World Bank, which has been slow in disbursing funding for a 30 million dollars municipal drainage project.

PM Dean Barrow
"These people really move painstakingly slowly, when we complain, they say, 'Well it's because of the history before the cutoff of the last government and the abuses that took place.' The fact is though that for whatever reason they are moving slowly. We don't expect now to see the first spade in the ground - so to speak - until after the midway point of this calendar year and already it's a 30 million dollar project divided among 6 municipalities. Already over 8 million dollars has been spent on foreign consultancies but that's the price we pay for getting funding from these IFI's and in particular the World Bank."

And even after all those consultancies, Estimates are that work will not start until mid year.

Channel 7

#400144 - 02/12/11 10:21 AM Re: Barrow says Court gave OK to drill in Nat'l Park [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Drilling in Sarstoon - Temash could begin in August: GOB

The Government’s insistence to allow drilling inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) in the Toledo District—which could happen as soon as August, according to Prime Minister Dean Barrow—will inevitably lead to a further fallout between the Barrow administration and the Maya of Toledo, who have joined forces with opponents to drilling inside protected areas, and who have issued a public declaration that drilling on what they deem to be their ancestral lands would be both illegal and in violation of a court injunction granted in 2010.

Government has no intention of stopping petroleum exploration onshore, especially not in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, managed by Greg Ch’oc’s organization, because geologists have said that it is perhaps the area with the highest oil potential in Belize, Barrow told the press at his quarterly press conference Tuesday. “That position will not change...” he insisted.

Barrow said that US Capital Energy Limited (a company whose parent company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, and which also has interests in Guatemala) is expected to start drilling within the next 6 to 9 months. “Drill they will,” Barrow commented.

The Maya declare that the lands upon which Government has issued blanket concessions to drill are a “sacred trust.”

Ch’oc, in a statement released today, said: “SATIIM will challenge any illegal action in order to preserve the rule of law in our country. We are not saying that development cannot go ahead, rather that the Government must recognize the legally bound sanctity of our national parks.”

He continues to maintain that only seismic activities associated with the exploration phase were addressed by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was completed in 2007.

The Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA), as well as the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), Ch’oc’s non-governmental organization which co-manages the Sarstoon-Temash National Park (STNP) along with the Forest Department, both issued statements this week.

On Wednesday, the MLA and the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) asserted that there is no clearance for oil drilling in the Toledo District.

“Since the Sarstoon-Temash National Park is made up of lands used and occupied by Maya villages, it is illegal for the government to allow drilling to go ahead in the park, at least until those lands have been demarcated and titled,” the statement said.

It explained that on June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court issued a specific injunction which, in effect, put the cuff on the government, barring it from undertaking any activities that could be deemed to have an adverse effect on “the existence, value, use or enjoyment of the lands located in the Toledo District, occupied and used by Maya villagers,” without the informed consent of the Maya.

This prohibition, said the MLA, includes concessions, permits and contracts. They also point to the concession granted to Paradise Energy Limited in 2010, which also covers villages they deem to be ancestral lands.

Amandala notes that the US Capital concession covers the vast majority of southern Maya villages—but it also covers the internationally renowned tourism destinations of Placencia and Seine Bight, as well as Independence and Punta Gorda.

However, the more vocal opposition to oil exploration has come from the Maya, who continue to assert their claim that the area is ancestral territory of the Kekchi or Q’eqchi and Garifuna communities, whose access to medicinal plants, building materials and food materials within the STNP were limited at the time the area was put under protected status.

Contrary to these views, Prime Minister Dean Barrow has gone on record to say that the Supreme Court has cleared the way for drilling in protected areas—a statement that SATIIM has taken serious issue with, particularly since it was the Prime Minister who held brief for the organization when it took the matter to court back in 2006.

Barrow told Amandala today, “Having appeared on the case, having represented SATIIM in that matter, I am absolutely certain that the judgment in fact permitted the exploration process in the national park, and that exploration process includes drilling.”

The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) supports SATIIM and said today that, “The Court decision had nothing to do with the commercial drilling of oil out of the ground, but only for oil search.  To give the impression that the Court gave the go-ahead for anything else is a misinterpretation of the decision.”

 Amandala has perused the 2006 decision, and we could not find any declaration in that document that the said drilling is permitted—but interpretations vary over what the reading of the decision implies.

This is what the decision, made by Acting Chief Justice Samuel Awich, said: “Of the four grounds of SATIIM’s claim, only one has succeeded, namely, that the permission to enter the Sarstoon-Temash National Park was given and preparatory work was started without an environmental impact assessment of the project having been carried out...”

Awich overturned the permission given by the Forest Department to enter the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, but ruled: “It will then be open to the Forest Department, having taken into consideration the environmental impact assessment recommendation, to decide whether or not to grant permission to the Company to enter the Sarstoon-Temash National Park for the purpose of carrying out seismic surveys.” [Emphasis ours.]

On this ground, US Capital had to do an EIA. Amandala also viewed the EIA, posted online at the website of the Department of the Environment: http://www.doe.gov.bz/. Dated June 2007, the document is titled, “Environmental Impact Assessment for US Capital Energy Belize Limited: Seismic Survey – Block 19.”

The executive summary of the document notes: “The project plan calls for an exploratory phase involving a series of seismic surveys on land to be followed by exploratory drilling if the results of the seismic survey warrants further investigation.... This environmental statement addresses only the seismic activities associated with the exploration phase.” [Emphasis ours.]

Notwithstanding the statements in the document, Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria, told Amandala last month that the approval that had been granted to US Capital Energy to shoot seismic tests in the area also covered exploration wells as a part of this first EIA process dating back about 4 years—2007.

The Government is unequivocally firm in its stance. The decision to proceed with petroleum exploration was made under the former administration, which issued a contract to US Capital, owned by Brian E. Richter of the USA, in 2001 and gave an extension, after the SATIIM lawsuit, in 2007.


That contract has been upheld by the Barrow administration, which has not revisited the agreement, based on our conversations with both the Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources, Gaspar Vega.

The contract, covering roughly 800,000 acres, calls for the Government of Belize to get a 7.5% royalty from petroleum sales, and 5% to 25% of production receipts after the company deducts its expenses. The 5% end of the range is collected for the first 50,000 barrels produced daily—the 25% would be collected only in the event that daily production reaches 150,000 barrels. Belize Natural Energy (BNE) has been producing far less than the volume on the minimum end of this scale.

In the agreement between GOB and US Capital, the parties “recognize the possibility that exploration in the contract area may result in the discovery of fields that may extend cross-border – Belize/Guatemala.”

Awich’s ruling, noted: “It is reasonable for SATIIM to suppose that in the event the result of the exploration confirms that there is oil in the park in exploitable quantity, the Government will declare the Sarstoon-Temash National Park or part of it to cease to be a national park. SATIIM would then lose its financial, proprietary and community interests which include employment of people from the local communities.”

The Prime Minister said in a recent media interview, that with respect to the US Capital exploratory tests: “Everything is coming up roses”—meaning that they believe petroleum prospects in the park to be great.

SATIIM said it is joining forces with the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage and APAMO, as they call for a referendum so that the people of Belize can decide on the future of their country.

“Sign the petition at APAMO, The Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage and SATIIM and have your voice heard,” said Ch’oc.

Barrow saw a copy of the referendum petition, he said for the first time today, when our newspaper showed it to him. He told Amandala that he would, consequently, consider drumming up his supporters to vote “no” in the referendum, since it is not only limited to offshore drilling but also includes protected areas.

Barrow also stated that the results of the referendum would not be binding, and he expressed the view that the Coalition, while it may get the 17,000 signatures required to trigger the referendum, will have trouble getting 60% of voters to weigh in at the polls. He said that he is going to give a 3-month deadline for the Coalition to get the petition in.

As to the risk of a political fallout for ignoring referendum results, Barrow said that he does not believe a majority of people are against petroleum exploration both offshore and in protected areas. He is clearly inclined to accept that a majority of people may be against exploration offshore—and he told us today that he would not permit any offshore drilling before the next general elections in 2013.

However, his stance is not as cautious where protected areas onshore are concerned: “With the protected area, really, I am prepared to take my chance, because I think that SATIIM block, is very high potential and, man, I want [to] find more oil... but the offshore, man, why would I run that sort of a risk,” the Prime Minister commented.

This issue is clearly about to foment into a major people’s movement. According to the MLA and TAA, they, too, will join forces with the Coalition, as well as the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO), Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), and other groups that are united in the call to ban petroleum exploration inside protected areas and offshore.

It is clear, though, that the stance of the Maya also extends to what they deem to be ancestral lands—a position fiercely opposed by the government. Barrow forecasted Wednesday that the dispute over the lands claimed by the Maya will be litigated all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice.


#400149 - 02/12/11 10:26 AM Re: Barrow says Court gave OK to drill in Nat'l Park [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Cho'c Says Gov’t Must Obey Law In Sarstoon Temash, Or Else…

We also asked Greg Cho'c about the Government's un-apologetic declaration that it intends to see U.S. Capital Energy "drill at will" in the Sarstun Temash National Park.

Cho'c is the director of SATIIM which co-manages that park and he told us today that they are determined to see that government abides by the law which prohibits oil exploration in the park:…

Greg Ch'oc, SATIIM
"We will challenge any illegal action to preserve the rule of law in this country. So if there is any disagreement on the judgment then obviously the court will need to adjudicate and interpret what it meant by what it said in those judgments and our position is that it does not give the green light for any drilling or exploitation to occur."

Jules Vasquez
"So then how will you all materially resist it? Time is going - six months - August."

Greg Ch'oc, SATIIM
"As I have said we are going to challenge any decision or action by government that we deem that is illegal in the court of law. And that will perhaps precipitate other actions that we do not rule out."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you all prepared to engage in civil disobedience to resist?"

Greg Ch'oc, SATIIM
"Well I am a non-violent person, Jules, you know that but if it comes to defending the democratic ideals, the rule of law that is so fundamental to this country, then I think it shouldn't be me but all Belizeans should take that challenge."

According to Government, drilling in the Park should start by as soon as August, 2011.

Channel 7

#400219 - 02/13/11 03:18 PM Re: Barrow says Court gave OK to drill in Nat'l Park [Re: Marty]
Mike Campbell Offline
"However, his stance is not as cautious where protected areas onshore are concerned: “With the protected area, really, I am prepared to take my chance, because I think that SATIIM block, is very high potential and, man, I want [to] find more oil... but the offshore, man, why would I run that sort of a risk,” the Prime Minister commented."
I abhor the first person , imperial attitude. Best of my knowledge PM has no training in geology and speaks and acts as if these lands were his private property. Civil actions are appropriate and all should take notice of what has happened in Egypt.
Concerning his stance on Maya ancestral land, all the Americas was inhabited by Indians who did not believe that anyone had individual land rights. It was all "claimed" by European interests by right of might. To say this was not Maya land is the most preposterous thing I have ever heard. Had they conducted genocide against the indians as they did in the US they could have effectively stole all the land as they did in the States. Respect for the people and the court is in order. We seem to have a shortage of both.


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