The People's Referendum has come and gone - and the Barrow administration has agreed to hold a referendum on offshore drilling. But the public information about the issue has mostly been one-sided - which is what brings us to our next story.

Janelle Chanona - in partnership with the Healthy Reefs initiative tonight presents the second and final part of her series examining the complex interplay of issues that factor into all deliberations about offshore drilling.

And while the environment is one thing, the revenue that government can generate is the other side of the issue. Tonight Janelle Chanona looks at those competing interests: conservation on one side and cash on the other - in a feature she calls, "Show Me the Money":..

Janelle Chanona reporting
Across the world, Governments are asking, "Can we drill for petroleum in offshore areas and still maintain a healthy marine environment?"

A common approach in answering that question involves identifying the costs; identifying the benefits and then deciding whether those benefits outweigh the costs.

Since petroleum was discovered in commercial quantities in Belize in June 2005, a number of companies have been granted licenses in the hope that similar success can be replicated. And specific attention is being paid to our territorial waters.

Andre Cho, Director of Petroleum
"Why? Well, the offshore areas of Belize, especially the southern offshore areas of Belize have very good potential for large fields."

According to Director of Geology, Andre Cho, the economic benefits of the petroleum industry should encourage everyone to support offshore drilling.

Andre Cho, Director of Petroleum
"A lot of people don't know but it's the oil revenues that's keeping the Government afloat. Why would we want to leave the petroleum down there if we can produce it and do it responsibly and produce revenues for the Government, clean up the debt and start developing the country; at the same time, keep tourism going and fishing. That's the ultimate, ultimate state that any country can be in, when you harmonize those things and that's what personally I'd like to see and that's what I am working for."

But conservationists argue that protecting the long term economic benefits of Belize's marine environment outweighs the short term benefits of exploring for and extracting offshore oil.

Dr. Melanie McField, Dir., Healthy Reefs for Healthy People
"At this point in time, there's nothing to me that would say let's risk all these jobs, let's risk our economy for a little bit of oil money now."

In 2007, the World Resources Institute conducted an extensive economic analysis of Belize's coastal systems. The study estimated that the country's marine environment contributed approximately one billion Belize dollars to our economy every year through the fisheries and tourism industry and via shoreline protection.

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator
"For fisheries alone, just the marine capture fisheries, in 2011 it was worth 25 million dollars and employs in excess of 4000 people,so it's our coastal and marine resources are really a mainstay in the national economy when you look at it."

Beverly Wade is Belize's Fisheries Administrator.

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator
"Every development should really be supported by some good rationalization process and it's in the Government's best interest, or any Government's best interest to now look and do your analysis. Something would have to give but you would have ensured that you've done that analysis properly to make sure that you are really not cutting off your nose to spite your face in a sense."

"The caution that has been thrown out there is warranted and I do think that as responsible regulatory agencies that we need to take it very seriously."

One of those regulatory agencies, the Department of the Environment, says it is taking the possible threats associated with offshore drilling seriously. According to Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria, basic monitoring and mitigation measures are up and running but ...

Martin Alegria- Chief Environmental Officer
"We should never be comfortable, we know we can do better."

Janelle Chanona - Reporter
"But this is a billion dollar resource. [Why aren't we doing better?]"

Martin Alegria - Chief Environmental Officer
"Not because these plans have not been implemented or initiatives haven't started or strengthened doesn't mean we haven't been doing something, we have. We know where we want to go. The resources available to properly monitoring and managing any, in this case you are talking about offshore, those are the types of things that we need to institute. First of all develop those mechanisms and institute those before we decide on permitting those activities on the marine environment."

And while GoB is developing mechanisms, exploration is going full speed ahead. In fact, Director of Petroleum Andre Cho told us...

Andre Cho - Director and Inspector of Petroleum Geology and Petroleum Department, Ministry of Natural Resources
"We have a lot of our companies exploring and I believe four of them have exploration wells planned this year, three in the north and one in the south so we are hoping for a big onshore discovery, bigger than the Spanish Lookout oil field."

And if that happens, Alegria says...

Martin Alegria - Chief Environmental Officer
"We have the mechanisms to get the resources to properly monitor."

And if a discovery is made offshore, Alegria says Government would simply contract international experts to determine necessary safety measures.

But this situation has others deeply concerned.

Dr. Melanie McField, Dir., Healthy Reefs for Healthy People
"To me, it's a disaster waiting to happen in form or the other. You may not have the massive BP style spill in the process of drilling but even a barge type disaster that lets loose a container full of oil, in our situation with no oil spill contingency plan, no funding ready and trained people, booms and enough equipment to get it to the site at the time it is needed, we don't stand a chance."

Dr. Melanie McField is the Director for Healthy Reefs for Healthy People initiative in Belize.

Dr. Melanie McField, Dir., Healthy Reefs for Healthy People
"The sea is falling apart. We have collapse of fisheries, we have major ecosystems going into disrepair. They are not functioning the way they should. If everything was the way it was 20 years ago, the sea could take it but it's not. And it's the compilation of all the things we are doing...every bit of human waste and coastal development...we need that to support some of the tourism industry. We can't have that plus an oil industry, plus global climate change plus overfishing and that's what we are doing, we are just piling it on more and more."

Many fears over offshore drilling can be allayed by using standard safety equipment and trained personnel however Alegria says...

Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer
"There are methodologies, technologies but they are costly. How economic feasibly will it be for us, for the companies to institute those mechanisms, buy those equipment to safeguard the environment, based on perhaps the volume speculated to be down there. Those are the issues that we have to address when we reach that bridge."

While Belmopan is ready to proceed with the calculated risks, environmentalists are appealing for a moratorium on offshore drilling until proper protocols are in place.

Dr. Melanie McField, Dir., Healthy Reefs for Healthy People
"We have these little guys now that are hoping to get lucky, little companies, taking risks and not having any deep pockets to pay for any mistakes they make. We are going to pay. Our fishing industry is going to pay. Our tourism industry is going to pay."

Andre Cho, Director of Petroleum
"You will always have a risk once you drill for oil whether it's on land or offshore. When you find oil and you are producing it, a pipeline can start leaking and things like that but you can have those things once you have the proper laws and mitigation measures in place as well as trained and qualified personnel in place and enough personnel. That's what we need to work towards."

Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer
"If the general public does not demand let's say a specific sector to get more environmentally conscious it becomes difficult."

The controversies surrounding offshore drilling are inextricably linked to the strong emotions Belizeans feel for the country's marine resources.

But even within that context, in answering the question of simultaneously developing new industries and safeguarding our environment, we must carefully weigh the competing benefits of both sides of the argument. Reporting for 7News, I am Janelle Chanona

Government has not set a date for the referendum on offshore drilling. For it to succeed, proponents would have to get out 60% of the registered voters, which is about 107 thousand persons.

Untitled from 7News Belize on Vimeo.

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