On more than one occasion in this column, I have explained to you that three decades ago Leroy Taegar told me how really big the Belize game was, and how powerful the players were. It was not that I did not believe him, but that I preferred not to pay any serious attention to him. I did not wish to be intimidated by the facts.
There were major oil companies doing exploration work in British Honduras before the masses of our people had any idea whatsoever of what was taking place. This was back in the colonial days fifty, fifty- five years ago, and the level of our people’s ignorance was truly appalling.
As I have also said to you before, in the sea and fishing circles of the colony in those days when I was a child, we heard that people were “blowing up the reef,” so to speak. It has only very recently been officially revealed where exactly oil explorations, by means of dynamite charges, were taking place in the offshore waters of British Honduras. What’s done is done, they say, but it would be valuable if some institution like Oceana would finance research into the secretive era of initial oil exploration here.
The esteemed and highly knowledgeable Compton Fairweather, CBE, published at least two articles in June 2006 issues of The Reporter, wherein he discussed his employment with Gulf Oil Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the business of oil exploration in British Honduras. Personally, I only have the second of these articles, and I will quote some of Mr. Compton’s revelations and opinions in that article.
“My duties with Gulf were to assist and be trained by senior geologist, Dr. Giovanni Flores, on Italian geologist employed by the company.
“We explored every river bank, highway excavation, quarry, cave, sink hole and outcrop we could find between the Sarstoon and the Rio Hondo Rivers, taking samples from the sedimentary rock strata.”
“Yes! We did find oil (called ‘shows’ in the industry) at two locations.
“The best quality was found at Galvez’ ranch between San Ignacio and Benque Viejo, now called Clarissa Falls.
“The other was at the Western Highway and Belmopan junction, now known as the Agriculture Show Grounds.”
“Even today, almost anyone can break the right rock and if lucky can fill a jar with oozing crude oil.”
“As I have indicated earlier, the Southeastern Mexico oil find which was producing 235,000 barrels of oil per day brought Mexico’s daily output to 635,000 barrels per day by the end of 1974, and it is part of the same Cretaceous zone we were exploring in the Yalbac area in the mid 1950’s.”
“It is my honest belief that when Belize achieves an oil bonanza it will be in the Yalbac area.”
In British Honduras in my childhood, there was never any discussion about oil in the newspapers, so far as I can recollect. In fact, all that Mr. Compton was writing in 2006 was news to most adult Belizeans.
This Tuesday morning, on a whim, I drove to Belmopan and visited the Archives building there. Mose Hyde had asked me to help in any way I could with a television documentary project about 1961’s Hurricane Hattie, so I decided to go through the 1961 copies of The Belize Billboard, which was definitely the colony’s leading newspaper at the time. As a matter of fact, Philip Goldson, who became a Nominated Member in the British Honduras Legislative Assembly after the March 1, 1961 general elections, had resigned as the Secretary of the National Independence Party (NIP) in January of 1961 to work full-time on the Billboard. (Mr. Goldson did not run as a candidate in the general elections, which the PUP swept - 18 seats to none for the NIP and none for the CDP.)
In the Sunday, May 28, 1961 issue of the Billboard, there is a front page story, cum photograph, of Mr. Henry Bowman, Sr., with an 8-foot (with sword), eighty-pound sailfish he had caught off Carrie Bow Caye. I believe it is in that same issue of the newspaper, but my notes are not 100 percent clear, that there is this story by Robert Taylor, a Billboard reporter at the time, of a camp at Big Creek where 42 Belizeans and 20 Americans were drilling for oil in the sea on a round-the-clock basis. According to Taylor, the men were employed by “International Offshore Rig Baton Rouge Inc. Los Angeles” and “represented by Phillips Petroleum.” The drilling was taking place about 9 1/2 miles out to sea from the camp. Mr. Taylor even has a picture of two British Honduran natives, Delvin Gordon and Bingham Reneau, with an oil drilling rig.
As I’m thinking about it, my conjecture is that Taylor must have gone south to do the Bowman sailfish story, which was headlined, and drifted into the Big Creek oil drilling encounter. In 1961 in British Honduras, the oil story would have been quaint, is all. I give posthumous respect to the late Mr. Taylor’s reporter’s instincts. His story is another piece in a petroleum puzzle in which Belizean researchers should now be interested.