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#509594 - 12/02/15 10:53 AM Government Implements Ban On Offshore Drilling
Marty Offline

5 years, that's how long the conservationists have been pressing the Barrow Government to institute a permanent Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling. But, it was not so simple because oil exploration contracts were already signed with different private companies, and so if the Government simply instituted a moratorium, they would be effectively be terminating these contracts - and thereby opening up the country to lawsuits for breech of contract.

So, late this year when all the oil exploration contracts expired, the Government chose not to renew any of them, especially in the environmentally sensitive areas, such as the marine reserves. Since then, the Oceana Belize and other conservationists have been lobbying in the halls of power for the Barrow Government to issue a permanent ban.

And that's the news tonight. A Government release says, quote, Cabinet met on the issue today, and late this evening, the Government announced that they had approved it.

A press release from the Government says, quote,

"Cabinet...approved a policy that will legally apply a ban on offshore exploration in areas along the Belize Barrier Reef System, and within the seven (7) World Heritage Sites in Belize.

Cabinet has agreed to specifically ban offshore exploration in all 7 World Heritage Sites:

  1. Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park
  2. Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and National Park
  3. Lighthouse Reef Natural Monument
  4. South Water Caye Marine Reserve
  5. Laughing Bird Caye National Park
  6. Glovers Reef Marine Reserve
  7. Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve

This effectively results in a total of 448 square miles being banned. In addition, Cabinet agreed to a ban offshore exploration within one kilometer on either side of the Belizean Barrier Reef System, resulting in an additional 868 square miles falling under the offshore exploration ban. The total area covered by the ban is 842,714 acres or 1,316 square miles…" End quote.

That's a huge milestone for the country, and at a half hour before the start of tonight's news, Oceana's Vice President, Janelle Chanona, told us via Skype that it is a welcomed announcement:

Janelle Chanona, Vice President - OCEANA
"The question has to be what does this mean for the people of Belize? I think it is significant that at a time when the world leaders are meeting as part of the COP21 conference to talk about ambitious strategies to help humanity deal with a changing climate that the government should choose to take this action. For us certainly looking that the government has declared a moratorium as it relates to offshore exploration for the entire offshore area that this announcement as to a permanent ban in such a significant portion of Belize's marine environment should be seen as a major milestone and should speak to the recognition of what Belizeans have been asking for, especially in the context of job security, food security and our very own identity. So I think this is an important date."

Daniel Ortiz
"So, are you cautiously optimistic?"

Janelle Chanona, Vice President - OCEANA
"I think Daniel, I know we have spoken about length about what victory would look like for us. I think this has to be seen for what it is, which is a major milestone. This is a clear indication as the Prime Minister put it to me, he says "Janelle I want to do this, because it's the right thing to do. If nobody was asking for it, I would still be doing it." So this has to be seen as a clear intention of the Prime Minister and his administration to do as he puts it "the right thing." And I am confident that the future will only provide even more evidence to the people of Belize and the government of Belize that it would not be worth it for be looking at doing this type of activity in any way shape or form in any of its territorial waters."

According to Government, not all of Belize's territorial waters qualify for this ban. The release explains,

"Cabinet further agreed that areas that fall outside of the large acreages banned, would not automatically allow for seismic activities and exploration drilling without conducting the existing stringent environmental studies to determine critical habitats and sensitive zones. The required environmental studies would then further give guidance to areas outside the ban, to scientifically determine the type and nature of exploration that can occur in these explorable areas."

We note that while this victory arrives today on December 1, 2015, activist Geovanni Brackett was the first to advocate for it back in 2010. The slogan "no to offshore oil drilling" became well known under Chanona's predecessor, Audrey Matura-Shepherd. It climaxed in March 2012, when the Matura-Shepherd led Oceana held a People's Referendum, where 30,000 registered voters gave a resounding "no".

We'll catch up with COLA President Geovannie Brackett tomorrow to get his reaction to the decision.

Channel 7


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#509598 - 12/02/15 11:02 AM Re: Government Implements Ban On Offshore Drilling [Re: Marty]
Diane Campbell Offline
It's a start. But not nearly enough reef is included in the ban. Don't let this lull us into complacency.
The whole reef needs the ban.

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#509614 - 12/03/15 11:05 AM Re: Government Implements Ban On Offshore Drilling [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

After Offshore Drill Ban, Conservation Community Says More Must Be Done

Last night, we told you about the Government’s announcement that offshore oil drilling is banned in all of the 7 World Heritage Sites in the Belize Barrier Reef System, along with 1 kilometer on either side of the reef system.

Oceana Belize’s Vice President, Janelle Chanona, told us yesterday that it is a major accomplishment. Today, the organization released a statement clarifying that while it is a good first step, two Marine Reserves have been omitted by the ban.

The release says, quote, “Oceana Belize looks forward to reviewing the details of the Barrow administration’s plans, especially as it relates to the status of two marine protected areas not named in the release: the Turneffe Marine Reserve and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.” End Quote.

COLA President Geovannie Brackett was the very first activist to agitate for offshore oil drilling back in January 2010. He and the conservationists from the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage have been actively campaigning to get the support of the general citizenry. Today, he told us that he sees it as a win, but adds that more needs to be done to push for a full ban on offshore oil drilling in Belize. Here’s how he explained it:

Geovanni Brackett - President, COLA

"We at COLA at very pleased with the announcement yesterday by the cabinet. And it's not many times that the government and COLA agrees one a matter or in collaboration. But I must say that this move by the Prime Minister and cabinet is a very excellent start to a complete ban on offshore drilling. We have fought a very long fight along with our partners in the coalition to save our national heritage. This is like a baby for COLA having been the founding member to really advocate on this issue; we're very pleased. Now moving forward in terms of the work in its entirety and the completion, there are a lot of things that needs to be done nevertheless. We've always advocated that the laws within Belize should be separated. Just as in the US where there is a department of interior that deals strictly with offshore drilling and there is another department that deals with onshore. The reason for that understandably deals with 2 different ecological systems and hence the reason why we can't put an umbrella law that deals with onshore drilling. It's very different when you drilling for oil in Spanish Lookout than when you drilling in the port Honduras marine reserve. Which brings me to another issue is that, the two marine reserves that has been excluded within this ban I think should be included actually because they wouldn't have been a reserve if there were not sensitive ecological systems. It will be left to that management that is dealing with those reserve areas to further advocate and so while we're happy that we have an excellent start, we would like to see further work. But we want to applaud the Prime Minister on this particular move. It's only fitting so that we; it’s not contentious move and it is one that we welcome and we will like to work with the government in moving forward with dealing with the issues on oil exploration."

Oceana Belize’s statement from today says quote, “From legal, economic, scientific and cultural perspectives, Belizeans agree offshore oil is a bad idea. We remain confident that the future will continue to reveal reasons why Belizeans should never risk our outstanding and globally unique resources with this type of activity.” End Quote.

Today, the World Wildlife Fund added to the chorus calling for a full ban saying, quote, “This is an important step in the right direction to protect Belize’s reef from the threat of oil, but it doesn’t remove that threat entirely. We know that any oil spill within Belize’s waters would have a devastating effect on the reef, including the Barrier Reef System World Heritage site.

WWF calls for a permanent moratorium or complete ban on offshore oil exploration and drilling in Belize.” End Quote.

Channel 7


COLA Says Two Other Marine Reserves Should Be Added to No Drilling Area

Yesterday the Government of Belize announced that it has decided to ban offshore oil exploration in Seven World Heritage Sites as well as areas along Belize’s barrier reef system. This is great news for environmentalist groups and activist groups such as Citizen Organized for Liberty through Action, COLA, which has been at the forefront of the issue. Today, COLA’s President, Geovanni Brackett, applauded the Prime Minister for the Government’s decision but says more needs to be done.

GEOVANNI BRACKETT

“We at COLA are very pleased with the announcement yesterday by the Cabinet and it’s not that many times that Government and COLA agree on a matter or are in collaboration but I must say this move by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet is a very excellent start to a complete ban on offshore drilling. We have fought a very long fight along with our partners in the Coalition to save our National Heritage and COLA, this is like a baby for us. Having being the founding member to really advocate on this issue however we are very pleased. Now moving forward in terms of the work in its entirety and the completion, there are a lot of things that need to be done. Nevertheless, we’ve always advocated that the laws within Belize should be separated, that which just as in the US where there is the Department of Interior that deals strictly with offshore drilling and then there is another department that deals with onshore and the reason for that is understandable because you are dealing with two different ecological systems hence the reason why we can’t put an umbrella law that deals with on shore drilling. It’s very different when you are drilling for oil in Spanish Lookout than when you are drilling in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve which brings me to another issue which is the two marine reserves that have been excluded within this ban I think should be included because they wouldn’t have been a reserve if there were not sensitive ecological systems. It will be left to those managements that are dealing with those reserve areas to further advocate. I think what we have done in the beginning in January 2010 is that we helped to push the environmental NGOs by providing them with the documents necessary to know that this entire country was blocked off. It is the responsibility of these NGOs now to further the advocacy within their particular areas, they have the resources and they have the funding and so we while we are happy that we have an excellent start. We would like to see further work but we want to applaud the Prime Minister on this particular move it is only fitting so that it is not a contentious move and it is not one that we welcome and we at COLA would like to work with the Government in moving forward and dealing with any issues pertaining to oil exploration.”

World Wildlife Fund Says Government’s Move on Oil Ban is not Enough

With Oceana having a weight lifted off their shoulders with these oil exploration policies in the making, the World Wildlife Fund is calling for more. They did not issue any official release to the media but they did publish on their website, a document that this is an important step in the right direction but it does not remove the threat entirely to the country’s reef. And so, WWF is calling for, quote, “a permanent moratorium or complete ban on offshore oil exploration and drilling in Belize. If the current moratorium is lifted, it must be informed by strong science, social and environmental impact assessments, an oil contingency response plan and overall agreement from the Belizean public.” The release went on to state that more also needs to be put in place to address unsustainable coastal projects that can negatively affect the reef, if it is to continue being a provider for the long-term economic and environmental prosperity of Belize and Belizeans. The release ended by saying, quote, “Over many years, WWF has worked collaboratively with the government, private sector and partners to help secure a number of conservation achievements in Belize. Since 2010 WWF has been advocating, as part of the national Coalition to Save Our Heritage, for a full ban on oil drilling in Belize’s land-based protected areas and all offshore waters.”

LOVEFM


Tourism Minister Vague on Offshore Drilling Ban

N.G.O.s have been clamoring for a number of years to ban oil exploration off the coast of Belize altogether. One of the many initiatives includes a people’s referendum to which thousands of Belizeans signed up to disallow offshore oil exploration on February twenty-fourth, 2012.  The ban at seven World Heritage Sites comprises a total of four hundred and forty-eight square miles, particularly the fragile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System which spans the country’s coastline. These designated areas are also renowned tourist destinations that would have been imperiled because of offshore drilling.  According to Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia, despite not being a member of the special-purpose group that presides over the issue, the decision will certainly benefit the tourism industry.

Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism

“There is a subcommittee that sits and is dealing with that one together with the pertinent authorities involved, you know, so I will reserve that one for the people in charge.”

Reporter

“But do you feel that such a decision will have any kind of, albeit positive effect in terms of tourism which is your ministry?”

Manuel Heredia

Manuel Heredia

“Yeah, well definitely I believe that whatever is done in the interest of, if it’s done in the interest of the country and whatever is done together in consultation with the partners around I believe that it will definitely be for the interest of the industry or for the country as a whole.”

In a formal release issued earlier today, OCEANA in Belize commends government for its newfound position, stating, “the decision taken today by the G.O.B. reflects recognition of what the people of Belize have been asking for years: the protection of job security, food security and cultural identity.”

Channel 5


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#509707 - 12/06/15 11:07 AM Re: Government Implements Ban On Offshore Drilling [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize beats UNESCO deadline to ban offshore exploration

One week ahead of an official visit to Belize by World Heritage Centre (WHC) staff, to discuss efforts made by the Government towards the removal of the Belize Barrier Reef System from UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites in danger, Cabinet announced a decision to adopt a policy that will provide a special carve-out for 8 offshore protected areas where petroleum exploration will be banned for the first time in Belize.

The announcement comes amid an unrelenting campaign here in Belize against offshore drilling that began to gain momentum in 2010, and which has benefitted from international pressure brought on by UNESCO.

Offshore exploration has been carried out in Belize—without major incident; but the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe of April 2010 quickly galvanized a demand for a more precautionary approach here in Belize, where any such accident would spell nothing short of devastation for this tiny Jewel and its open economy.

According to the Cabinet press release issued Tuesday, the total area covered by this historic ban spans 842,714 acres, or 1,316 square miles.

The announcement represents a 180-degree turn from the days when all of Belize’s offshore territory, including the Barrier Reef System and its prized atolls, were included under contract areas parceled out to petroleum exploration companies, some of which were unqualified to operate in the industry.

TOUR SITES BY CLICKING THE IMAGE BELOW:

Map-Tour-of-Banned-Areas

 

The Department of Geology and Petroleum had previously informed us that 16 offshore wells had been drilled in Belize since 1958, and Island Oil had been allowed to drill off Monkey River as recently as 2007. In October of that same year, Princess Petroleum was given a petroleum exploration license over an area that included the Blue Hole; but that concession, originally for 200,000 acres onshore and 1.8 million acres offshore, expired in October of this year.

A draft zonation plan circulated last year caused controversy when it was observed that the Blue Hole and other prized marine locations were included in zones that could be open to offshore drilling. Tuesday’s announcement, then, was a walk-back from the government’s long-held position.

Back in 2012, the government announced that it would implement a temporary freeze on issuing offshore concessions after Taiwan relinquished a contract of over 1,800 square miles of offshore territory.

Today, a full moratorium on offshore drilling remains in effect, and the Government has undertaken that it would not automatically allow for seismic activities and exploration drilling elsewhere in offshore Belize unless “stringent environmental studies” are undertaken “to determine critical habitats and sensitive zones” as well as “the type and nature of exploration that can occur in these explorable areas.”

Whereas this presents only a partial ban on offshore drilling, the announcement has been hailed by proponents of a full ban as “a step in the right direction”—although some have told us that it does not go far enough, since, in their view, any drilling offshore could risk not just vital reef assets, but also thousands of livelihoods built upon the tourism and fisheries industries.

“This progress should be seen as a major accomplishment by and for the people of Belize,” says Oceana’s Vice President for Belize, Janelle Chanona.

However, Candy Gonzalez, president of BELPO – Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, one of the NGOs which had lobbied against offshore drilling under the banner of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, goes on to insist that, “We still maintain that there should be a ban on all offshore drilling.”

“Obviously, the ban doesn’t go far enough because anything that happens within the barrier reef is going to impact the entire barrier reef,” she added.

“The decision taken today by the GoB reflects recognition of what the people of Belize have been asking for years: the protection of job security, food security and cultural identity,” said a statement from Oceana, another Coalition member, in support of the announcement.

Back in 2012, 96% of 28,208 registered voters who participated in a referendum organized by Oceana with support from the Coalition, after the Government denied a referendum petition, said a resounding “NO” to offshore drilling.

“From legal, economic, scientific and cultural perspectives, Belizeans agree offshore oil is a bad idea. We remain confident that the future will continue to reveal reasons why Belizeans should never risk our outstanding and globally unique resources with this type of activity,” the Oceana statement issued today added.

Roberto Pott, Belize Coordinator of Healthy Reefs for Healthy People, told Amandala that “the move is a welcome one,” but added that “…there is still a lot to consider, because the areas within protected areas cover close to 20% of our territorial seas, and there is another 80% of marine space, not including the Exclusive Economic Zone, not captured within the ban.”

Pott added that the partial ban is not a complete safeguard for Belize for that same reason:

“Belize is not prepared for any type of oil spill offshore… and we are not prepared for a spill from the shipping of oil that is going on currently,” Pott said, pointing out that while the probability of a spill would be low, if it ever happens, it would carry a high cost.

“But we have to encourage government for moving to ban [drilling] in at least 20% of our territorial seas,” he concurred.

Like Oceana, Pott pointed out that two big areas have been excluded from the ban – which implies that they would be open to oil exploration: Turneffe, the largest marine protected area, and Port Honduras, the third largest, are excluded from the ban.

Reacting to the Cabinet announcement, UNESCO’s World Heritage Center issued a statement saying: “The decision is a major first step forward in the government’s efforts to remove the Belize Barrier Reef from the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.”

The Belize Barrier Reef System, declared a World Heritage Site in 1996, was put on the danger list in 2009. However, this January, following a week-long dialogue with a UNESCO team, Prime Minister Dean Barrow confirmed government’s policy position to prohibit petroleum exploration within and adjacent to the protected areas in the Belize Barrier Reef System, under what the World Heritage Center calls the “desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR).”

It was not until this Tuesday that an official Cabinet decision was declared, confirming that “offshore exploration” would be banned at the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park, the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and National Park, the natural monuments at Lighthouse Reef (The great Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye Natural Monuments included), the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, the Laughing Bird Caye National Park, the Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, and the Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve. Of note is that the Caye Caulker reserve, although listed among the banned sites, is not listed by UNESCO among the protected areas in the Belize World Heritage Sites.

“In addition, Cabinet agreed to ban offshore exploration within one kilometer on either side of the Belizean Barrier Reef System, resulting in an additional 868 square miles falling under the offshore exploration ban,” the Cabinet release added.

Cabinet further agreed that areas that fall outside of the large acreages banned, would not automatically allow for seismic activities and exploration drilling without conducting the existing stringent environmental studies to determine critical habitats and sensitive zones.

Further to its commitments to the World Heritage Center, Belize is expected to meet two milestones by 31 January 2016: (1) finalize a map that defines the property’s surrounding areas where no oil exploration and exploitation can be permitted and (2) enshrine the policy in law for the permanent exclusion of the entire property and the defined surrounding areas from oil exploration and exploitation.

It was announced by UNESCO today that World Heritage Centre staff will travel to Belize from 8th to 15th December 2015, to discuss next steps forward—which will likely include new and/or amended legislation. Cabinet’s release omitted the news of the imminent UNESCO visit.

While Gonzalez said that they are “very happy” with the Cabinet decision, she added: “We would feel more comfortable if it was written into legislation.”

Chanona noted that based on Belize’s agreement with UNESCO, anything done for UNESCO has to be legislated and enshrined in a legal document.

She informed us that in June 2015, Oceana proposed draft legislation to the Government of Belize, captioned, “Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism Act, 2015”, which sets out proposed conditions for the lifting of the existing moratorium.

The draft bill submitted by Oceana calls for:

  • a comprehensive oil spill response plan, inclusive of adequate funds for implementation
  • a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment of petroleum operations in Belize’s territorial waters
  • a revised Petroleum Regulations to include detailed requirements regarding the qualification of companies seeking to conduct offshore petroleum operations and the safety measures that must be taken during those operations
  • a common fund to which offshore petroleum operations would contribute and which would be held in trust and managed for the sole purpose of mitigating environmental damages caused during offshore petroleum operations
  • an Environmental Pollution Control Board which would be charged to ensure compliance with the requirements of environmental standards and the relevant laws of Belize
  • an amended Environmental Impact Assessment regulations to include all offshore petroleum operations, including seismic testing, to the list of activities that require EIAs
  • an independently conducted cost benefit analysis of offshore oil development to Belize to determine if overall benefits substantially outweigh costs
  • a referendum to determine whether the moratorium should ever be lifted.

Some proponents of a complete ban on offshore drilling hope that Belize’s world famous barrier reef, said to be second only to Australia’s, would one day enjoy the kind of protective status enshrined in Australian law for its reef. Of note is that unlike Belize, where only sections of the reef system have protected status, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia has been designated a mega marine park; and since its designation in 1975, oil exploration, mining and exploration have been banned in the area, which also enjoys World Heritage status.

Amandala


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#509821 - 12/10/15 11:05 AM Re: Government Implements Ban On Offshore Drilling [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

OCEANA Eyes Opened On Offshore Drilling

As we have reported, the government has announced that off shore oil drilling is banned in all 7 World Heritage Sites in and along the Belize Barrier Reef System. OCEANA, COLA and other agencies have welcomed and applauded this decision. But they say, there is still more to research, more to be done on this issue. And that’s why OCEANA held a conference today at the Radisson to continue the discussion of off shore oil drilling in Belize. Trinidadian Expert Marc De Verteuil was invited to present on Trinidad and Tobago’s challenges as the oldest and most experienced oil producing country in the world. He says that Belize can learn a thing or two about the catastrophic risks involved in off shore oil exploration.

Marc De Verteuil - Director and Founder, Papa Bois Conservation Group

"Trinidad is littered with ancient oil and gas infrastructure, old pipes, platforms, well heads. Some of these well heads have never been properly capped. There's one well head in particular I can think about 5 years ago I stumbled across it and it was Trinidad's first commercial oil well. It was drilled in 1867; the oil well was leaking about 4 or 5 gallons every day into this big sump which occasionally would be emptied by the oil company. If it started to rain the sump would fill up with water, the oil drifts on top of the water, it would flow into the neighbourhood. Create a huge environmental hazard, go straight into wetlands. In dry season the whole area would dry out and you get bush fires and the oil and the well would actually get caught on fire every year; fire services would have to come and put it out."

"Off shore oil production is a very risky, very technical industry. If something goes wrong, it's not easily dealt with. Just look at the Gulf of Mexico disaster, we had the most advance country in the world in the United States; one of the biggest most advanced oil companies in the world, British Petroleum. They could not contain the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In Trinidad and Tobago, we had an oil spill in 2013. It causes a leak of 7,000 barrels of oil; devastated our mangroves, devastated fisheries. The cause was literally a 10 dollar bracket on a transmission line that broke. The bracket could have been bought in a hardware, it caused damages totalling we don't even know how much damages was really caused but you talking 10 of millions of dollars, maybe 100 of millions of dollars. These are the risks that Belize is exposing itself to and it will happen, at some point you are going to get an oil spill, a big one, a small. Belize is very unique and fragile in a sensitive ecosystem; I don't think it's a chance you can take."

Janelle Channona - President, OCEANA

"We have called this event the energy of nature vs the nature of energy. So if you think about the nature of energy of course we're talking about inherit hazards and consequences of extraction of natural resources; meaning of course crude. Then you think of the energy of nature which is waves and wind and sun that fuel actual life. Fossil fuels are of course used to fuel routines and this conference we have been putting together for several months. So I have to say it was more time with climate change conference happening in Europe right now than it was with local activities but timing wise I think it worked out perfectly that the first week of December we get such an announcement about a ban within a moratorium and then to have this conference come in the 2nd week to talk about continuing the conversation. This is about making sure we continue to have this conversation, that we are bringing information to the table. Objectively we've had several different sides shared today and it's all about having people make an informed decision. We don't want to tell people what to think, tell people what to do, we want people to be able to internalize the information, localize it to Belize and then make an informed decision."

"Looking at where we are now, we're talking about approximately 14 to 15 percent of Belize's off shore areas being permanently banned. That leaves that if the moratorium is ever lifted about 85 percent of Belize's off shore area as explorable. That's why we have to continue the conversation. Because if in the very distant future the moratorium is ever lifted, we have to make sure 1.) We know what we're doing when we decide as a people to lift the moratorium. 2.) We would have had enough conversation and stimulation to decide what needs to be in place to ensure the integrity and protection of those resources if we'd ever decide to engage in off shore oil."

OCEANA says it is already planning for the anniversary of the People’s Referendum in February.

Channel 7


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