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#503878 - 05/01/15 11:12 AM Oceana rejects GOB petroleum exploration guidelines
Marty Offline
Oceana Belize and the Belize Coalition to Protect Our National Heritage have called for a complete moratorium on any offshore oil exploration in Belize territorial waters. The Non-government Organizations (NGO) resoundingly rejected the Government of Belize’s draft guidelines for petroleum exploration, which was first issued in September 2013 but unknown to the NGO’s until January 19, 2015.

In a letter penned by Oceana Belize Vice President Janelle Chanona and addressed to the Minister, Hon. Senator Joy Grant on March 2, the NGO also called on the Ministry of Energy, Science Technology and Public Utilities to reassess the potential risks and benefits of oil exploration, pointing out the many flaws in the guidelines. Chanona and the Coalition’s Tanya Williams shared their concerns at a press briefing at the Belize Best Western Biltmore Hotel in Belize City last Thursday, April 23.

Oceana’s complete response to the Government of Belize’s (GOB) draft guidelines is a volume four inches thick, but the 18-page executive summary made the point that Belize’s marine resources presently contribute over $600 million annually to the Belizean economy, and the draft guidelines make no effort to balance this existing bounty against the potential risks and dangers of any offshore oil exploration and/or exploitation.

In addition to the present economic contribution, Belize’s pristine marine areas are attracting many new Foreign Direct Investments (FDI’s) which Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow often refers to in his budget speeches and other national addresses. These new FDI’s include Norwegian’s proposed cruise ship port on Harvest Caye, Leonardo Di Caprio’s proposed development on Blackadore Caye, the proposed Stake Bank cruise ship port and resort, and the luxurious 8-star Puerto Azul development proposed for Northern Two Cayes. Yet all of these developments would be endangered by any oil exploration/ exploitation, with the possible risk of an oil spill, which GOB and the Department of the Environment (DOE) admits they are completely unprepared and ill-equipped to manage. This was made clear when DOE presented their draft Oil Spill Contingency Plan to the media and NGO’s at the Biltmore the week before.

The guidelines’ map of proposed exploration areas would make it appear that Prime Minister Barrow is paying only lip service to marine conservationists’ concerns. GOB had hosted a delegation from the World Heritage Center (WHC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in January this year, coincidentally when Oceana and other NGO’s received a copy of the oil exploration guidelines. The WHC delegation’s visit was an effort to have some of Belize’s sites removed from the WHC danger list, and PM Barrow reportedly expressed willingness to chart a course forward and confirmed government’s policy of prohibiting oil exploration within and adjacent to protected areas in the Belize Barrier reef system. The main reason Belize was on UNESCO’s “Sites in Danger” list was the proposed oil exploration and exploitation.

Falling oil prices and the Belize’s need for energy independence have driven the country’s energy experts in Joy Grant’s ministry to seek and encourage new energy projects from sustainable sources and low-carbon technologies, in keeping with the national plan to make Belize more resilient and adapted to climate change. Giving out oil exploration concessions that would endanger a major driver of Belize’s economy is incongruent with a sustainable energy plan.

While Belize’s Barrier Reef system is the second largest in the world and the largest in the western hemisphere, it is already under threat from climate change and its evil twin, ocean acidification. Warmer temperatures and more acid seas are already causing coral bleaching as the coral polyps die, leaving a whitened graveyard; to add oil exploration would only exacerbate the problem.

Chanona’s letter also lamented that the guidelines do not follow Belizean law, nor are they in line with Government’s obligation to manage Belize’s marine resources for the good of the Belizean people. They also ignore public opinion; as 90 percent of the 30,000 Belizeans who participated in a public referendum organized by Oceana and other NGO’s a couple years ago voted against offshore oil exploration.

In terms of legality, Oceana cites the Supreme Court judgment of April 2013 in which Justice Legall ruled that to allow oil exploration in any offshore area without a prior Environmental Impact Assessment, as required by the Environmental Protection Act, would be illegal, “irresponsible” and “reckless”

The Oceana statement goes on to extol Belize’s World Heritage sites internationally recognized by UNESCO, such as the famous Blue Hole atoll; and how Belize’s barrier reef already serves the nation with wealth untold: providing clean air and water, food, jobs, medicines, a wide variety of wildlife which have all become a part of our cultural identity.

Oceana points out that the proposed petroleum exploration zones being offered for license straddle much of the Belize Barrier Reef System, which includes seven protected areas: Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, the Blue Hole Natural Monument, the Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, the South Water Caye Marine Reserves, the Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, the Laughing Bird Caye National Park and the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserves. Belize’s waters also enclose five marine protected areas which the Fisheries and Forest Departments co-manage along with NGO’s like the Belize Audubon Society and the Toledo Institute for Sustainable Development.

Not only would giving out oil exploration permits compromise our World Heritage site status with UNESCO, but Belize’s marine eco-systems form an important habitat for a number of threatened species already targeted for conservation efforts such as the West Indian manatee, three species of turtles – green, hawksbill and loggerheads, the American crocodile, as well as many bird species.

It’s hard to put a dollar value on things of such intrinsic value, but a study by the World Resources Institute in 2008 estimated that the value of the reef in fisheries, tourism and shoreline protection contributed $700 million to Belize, higher estimates peg the value of the reef closer to one billion dollars annually. All of which would be put at risk by ill-considered issuance of oil-exploration contracts with the inherent risk of an oil spill.

Tourism alone brings in $680 million annually and by far the biggest and most popular attractions for visitors are the marine protected areas, and this is according to the government’s own statistics, as compiled by the Belize Tourism Board.

Commercial fisheries bring in only about US$14 – $16 million annually for a about 4,500 licensed fishermen and their families, but sport fishing already provides 2,000 jobs, and the Bonefish Tarpon Trust estimates sport fishing contributes about $100 million annually to the Belize economy.

Oceana’s statement went on to itemize the many impacts of any future oil exploration, even seismic studies and the already existing risk of an oil spill just from tankers transporting fuel to Belize’s ports and the exportation of Belize’s petroleum. No one in the oil industry can forget the Deepwater Horizon accident in April 2010 which leaked almost 500,000 barrels of oil (National Geographic estimated the spill at 200 million gallons of oil) into the Gulf of Mexico and cost the owners of the oil rig, British Petroleum BP, over US$20 billion in clean-up and damage compensation costs. Such a scenario is the stuff of nightmares for the tourism sector when they consider any oil exploration in Belizean waters.

The statement also points out how woefully ill-equipped Belize is to adequately monitor and police the oil exploration companies who have come “wildcatting” in Belize, and the ludicrous ways they have improvised to drill for oil; for example the Island Oil company which strapped together 40-foot containers filled with Styrofoam as a jerry-rigged way to float their drilling rig. This rig capsized while being towed to port in 2007, killing a Belizean worker.

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#504169 - 05/12/15 11:29 AM Re: Oceana rejects GOB petroleum exploration guidelines [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Famous Coral Reef System In Belize Could Soon Be The Site Of Oil Drilling

A World Heritage Site could turn into an oil drilling site, if plans to allow oil exploration off the coast of Belize go through.

A proposal from the Belize Ministry of Energy provides guidelines for oil exploration — and drilling, if oil is found — across most of the country’s land and water, including along the Belize Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most ecologically diverse environments. Oceana Belize, an environmental advocacy group, has launched a campaign to halt oil exploration and to get more information from the government about the plan and what went into creating it.

“The general consensus we’re getting from Belizeans is… ‘Didn’t we already decide not to do this? Why is this still an issue?'” Janelle Chanona, a spokesperson for Oceana Belize, told ThinkProgress.

Two years ago, the Belize Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Oceana suit to halt offshore oil exploration. Subsequently, though, the injunction was suspended, and two companies, including Princess Petroleum, continue to have exploration rights.


Red areas would be prohibited from oil exploration. The barrier reef appears mostly under the yellow, zone 2, designation

According to documents submitted by Belize to UNESCO, the original concession included exploration rights at Great Blue Hole, a renowned underwater sinkhole, but Princess Petroleum voluntarily gave rights to that area up. If oil is not found, the current rights will expire in October 2015, which may be why the government is pursuing a new path to concessions.

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System — made up of mangrove forests, tiny islands, and the famous Blue Hole Natural Monument — is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, and as “one of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere.”

The proposed zones for oil exploration place two onshore areas of Belize completely off-limits, and the barrier reef falls mostly into the second-most stringent category. But as little as five kilometers (about 3.1 miles) from the reef, the map shows the “lowest categorization” of restrictions.

“There’s no major difference between zones two, three, and four,” Chanona said.

A presentation prepared by a government consultant provided to ThinkProgress by Oceana, titled “Offshore Drilling Benefits and Risks,” states, “The literature reviewed presents no deleterious effects on coral reefs either in the presence or absence of oil spills. Available research results also indicate that corals are robust as regards discharge of drill cuttings.”

In another section, the presentation states, “The potential environmental risk should not be allowed to prevent Belize from continuing to increase standards of living and reap similar rewards [to other countries with offshore drilling].”

The presentation was prepared by Carla Suite Wright, an engineer with BP Trinidad and Tobago, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Economic benefits of drilling are a key reason Belize should allow oil exploration, according to Wright’s presentation, but there is a flip side to that argument. Opponents cite Belize’s tremendous economic dependence on its coastline.

A tiny nation of fewer than 350,000 people, Belize is tucked at the southeastern edge of Mexico, sandwiched between Guatamala and the Caribbean. Tourism makes up 40 percent of the country’s GDP, and an estimated 60 percent of Belize’s tourists participate in marine activities. Coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism was responsible for an estimated $150 million to $196 million in 2007.

“The Belize Barrier Reef system provides hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and guaranteed economic benefits via tourism, fishing and storm surge protection. Those hundreds of millions of dollars cannot be dismissed in favor of the mere ‘potential’ of anything else — especially something as dangerous and dirty as offshore oil,” Oceana said in a press release.

“Even if you don’t meet with us, these are public resources — you should be meeting with the public,” Chanona said. Her group filed a formal request for documents related to the proposed exploration guidelines, but the Ministry of Energy did not respond. The request is currently with the national ombudsman, she said.

In fact, the proposal seems to be at odds even with the Ministry’s stated mission, which is “To plan, promote and effectively manage the production, delivery and use of energy through Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Cleaner Production interventions.”

UNESCO notes that offshore oil development is a key threat to the reef system.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which exploded and sank in 2010, spilling millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, was located 40 miles off the cost of Louisiana. Four years after the spill, mangrove forests were dead and the coastline was eroding. A similar oil spill off Belize — or even a much smaller spill — could be devastating to Belize’s fragile reef system.

Representatives for the Ministry of Energy did not immediately respond to calls or emails Monday.


Click for Maps of Belize Seismic surveys and wells


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#504193 - 05/13/15 11:26 AM Re: Oceana rejects GOB petroleum exploration guidelines [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize plan to allow offshore drilling threatens Great Blue Hole, say critics

The government of Belize is considering new regulations that would allow offshore drilling in 99% of its territorial waters, a move which environmental groups say would threaten the second-largest coral reef in the world.

The draft regulations would allow companies to undertake offshore exploration for oil and gas near the Great Blue Hole, an astonishing submarine sinkhole that was named a Unesco world heritage site in 1996. The 124-metre sinkhole is visible from space, and was named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the world’s top 10 dive destinations.

“They’ve declared open season on almost 99% of Belize’s marine area,” Janelle Chanona, of the US activist group Oceana, told the Associated Press. “That includes seven world heritage sites, that includes marine protected areas ... and it is unacceptable.”

Following a 2013 ruling by the Belize supreme court, all licences and contracts related to offshore drilling in Belizean waters were thrown out, due to fears over safety standards and unsatisfactory environmental provisions.

The judge responsible for the ruling expressed concern that some companies awarded drilling contracts by the Belizean government had insufficient experience in the field of drilling and exploration – which could increase the risk of accident.

One company involved had a background in hotel and resort development rather than fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Environmentalists have warned that even exploratory oil wells can disrupt fragile reef ecosystems, while the smallest oil spill could could have a devastating environmental impact.

According to a report released by the Belizean government, tourism accounts for half of the overall Belizean economy. Compromising its natural tourist attractions would undoubtedly put a vast proportion of its economy – and corresponding jobs – at risk.

Belize’s recent history when it comes to the preservation of its most important world heritage attractions is not unflawed.

In 2013, one of the country’s largest Mayan temples was almost entirely destroyed by road construction crews, who had been bulldozing it for gravel.

The government has stressed the potential economic benefits of oil or gas extraction, but a government document released earlier this year appeared to suggest there could also be environmental benefits.

A document, entitled Offshore Drilling: Potential Benefits and Risks, suggested that offshore rigs act as a form of artificial reef and as a result can actually increase marine life around their operations “fiftyfold”.

But Chanona argued that any move to open up Belize’s water to offshore drilling would make no environmental or economic sense. In a 2012 “people’s referendum” organised by Oceana, almost 96% of 30,000 participants voted against offshore exploration and drilling. (Belize’s population is approximately 350,000.)

“And still there is this seeming intention to drill, baby, drill,” she said.

The Guardian


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