The discussion on offshore oil drilling and its risks continue to be ventilated in the media, and for some time now, N.G.O.s and government have bucked heads on this issue. Well, today the Department of Environment invited N.G.O.s to participate in a workshop that will see them offer their expertise to the draft oil spill plan. With international presenters from the International Maritime Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, and Regional Pollution Emergency Center for the wider Caribbean, along with the D.O.E., presentations were made on contingency planning, communications, and spill response strategies, among others. But, all of this preparation isn’t just for possible future oil spills. As was highlighted today, there are real risks as it stands for Belize and preparedness is a must. News Fives Andrea Polanco attended today’s event and has this report.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Department of Environment, in partnership with three international organizations, hosted N.G.O.s and the media for a one day Oil pollution, preparedness, and response and cooperation sensitization workshop. But, just how much risk is Belize exposed to and how prepared are we?

Paul Lattanzi

Paul Lattanzi, Commander, US Coast Guard

“There are currently risks for oil spill here in Belize and we need to be doing everything possible so that Belize is prepared for that risk.”

Andrea Polanco

“Would you say we are ready for a risk?”

Paul Lattanzi

“I think there is definitely room for improvement and the DOE is leading that effort to get an oil spill plan in place and bring the stakeholders to the table so that everyone we bring to the table, so that everyone who has a part to play make sure that Belize is prepared.”

Andrea Polanco

“What are some critical areas that you think we need to explore and look at, and possibly adapt?”

Paul Lattanzi

“I think it is one of the first things that DOE is doing right now is to chart and locate and identify all those areas that are sensitive to oil spills and of course, Belize has many. There is always a risk when you look at a new avenue for exploring oil or transporting oil. From my stand point, there is currently a risk. There are super large tankers transit offshore through Belize waters right now and an innocent passage carrying large amounts of oil and that exists whether the risk is from a well somewhere off shore. But for me, I think that you need to be more concerned about the risk that currently exists.”

Elliot Taylor

Being exposed to those risks makes it critical to assess the effectiveness of oil spill response capability, says veteran oceanographer and oil spill expert, Dr. Elliot Taylor.

Dr. Elliot Taylor, Senior Scientist, Polaris Applies Sciences, Inc

“Doing response simulations are what we call exercises, are very important. It just brings all the people that will play at the time of an actual incident together. So you practice implementing a plan. You already know each other personally and you know where your strengths are and expectations of roles and responsibilities and how each different organization can contribute effectively to the response. I think there is a lot of work to be done and the country knows that. One has to look at the broader international frame work to see how Belize can situate itself within that framework how Belize can best prepare itself for something that we all hope never ever happens.”

Part of that preparedness is the Draft National Oil Spill Contingency Plan that is currently under revision.

Maxine Monsanto

Maxine Monsanto, Senior Environmental Officer, DoE

“The national contingency oil spill plan we have in place, we know what the command structure is from the draft structure. We have some equipment on site. We are hoping to update that and strengthen that ability through this process. When we finish the draft document and it gets approved, we will have a simulation exercise. The objective of the workshop between last year, today and the next few days is to strengthen our capacity so we can improve the existing document and approve the existing document.”

Contributing to the document today are Oceana and Healthy Reefs.

Janelle Chanona

Janelle Chanona, VP OCEANA, Belize

“I am definitely confident that this is a step in the right direction. But this is just the beginning, the N.G.O.s, the media and DOE. This needs to be a much larger conversation where all the stakeholders are at the table; the fishing communities, the tourism community members, other government agencies. This cannot be held in isolation. These are public resources and are important to a wide cross section of Belizeans.”

Roberto Pott

Roberto Pott, Coordinator, Healthy Reefs, Belize

“One of the things that we have recognized as healthy reefs for healthy people is that there is still a big gap in understanding where our aquifers for fresh water is and there is a lot of us who depend on that water and it just hasn’t been assessed, so we need to know where those sensitive areas and it could affect our economy and Belizeans in general if it isn’t doing that already.”

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