Amandala has confirmed from official sources that Providence Energy Limited, a Houston-based group which was granted a 25-year petroleum concession back in 2007, is planning to shoot seismic tests in southern Belize, and particularly in an offshore area that includes the Port Honduras Marine Reserve – one of the first reserves being used to test the concept of catch shares among fishers.

The concession spans 531 square miles. Providence announced when the contract was signed by former Natural Resources Minister Florencio Marin back in October 2007 that, “The award consists of a mostly offshore block in the Gulf of Honduras from Punta Gorda to New Haven and another block over and southeast of Glover’s Reef off Dangriga. The agreement provides for 8 years for exploration and 25 years per discovered oil field.”

The Providence contract is one of the six offshore petroleum contracts that Oceana, the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) have been challenging before the Belize Supreme Court. Justice Oswell Legall, who heard the case last month, is expected to announce his judgment before he proceeds on leave in April.

Godfrey Smith, SC, who represents the claimants, had told the court that the 6 PSAs, including that for Providence, were granted in a manner that violates the Petroleum Act, as well as the Environmental Protection Act, the Fisheries Act and the National Parks Act. The attorney also took issue with the manner in which the contracts have been renewed, including the fact that commitments laid out in the original agreement had not been met.

In speaking of the petroleum potential of Southern Belize, Providence quotes R. Ramanathan, who had served as a consultant to the Belize government. Ramanathan had said back in March 2006 that he believes the next discoveries in Belize will be made in the “southern offshore basin, where it is continuous with the field of Guatemala…and also the southern basin on land near Crique Sarco, Monkey River, and the Punta Gorda Belt…and more in the southern offshore basin including Glover’s Reef,” a statement from Providence said.

Amandala understands that the terms of reference for Providence’s impending seismic work, which would set out the scope of what the Department of the Environment (DOE) wants to see in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), is currently being prepared, and there will have to be consultation with the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC), as well as the NGO co-managing the park with the Government of Belize.

The Port Honduras Marine Reserve is under the co-management of the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE).

TIDE Executive Director, Celia Mahung, told Amandala yesterday, Wednesday, that they will be working on a position paper; however, they are still in the process of gathering information on the Providence proposal.

“We are concerned for sure,” Mahung told us.