By Harry Lawrence - Publisher of the Reporter
This time the challenge is coming from SATIM, the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management which has charge of the Sartoon-Temash National Park..
Mr. Greg Ch’oc, the park’s General Manager, is saying that under the National Parks Act, no one is authorized to drill for oil in that sacrosanct nature preserve.
This is clearly an untenable position, and if indeed there is such a law, it should be amended immediately.
Drilling for oil is not like logging for timber. Loggers have to clear the forest to build dirt roads. Their hunt for good timber causes them to cut down many trees, denuding the forest, causing loss of topsoil and subsequent erosion.
Drilling for oil is nothing like that. One only needs to visit Spanish Lookout to see an oil well at work. It works night and day, silently among the gently rolling landscape, almost unnoticed in the pristine countryside.
In California there are clusters of these producing oil wells sitting smack in the middle of urban developed areas, with no negative effect on the community. Fully developed feeder roads lead to and from these wells.
Under Belizean law, landowners have sovereign rights to the surface of the land they own, but all mineral rights, including oil and ore, are vested in the government. This is true also of organizations and agencies which manage land or parks for the Government. Such managers do not have the authority to prevent the government from carrying out exploration or mining, especially where there appear to be good prospects for discovering oil.
In resisting exploration in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, SATIIM is doing a disservice to the people of Belize and standing in the way of progress. Belize needs to produce more oil because oil enriches a country and its people.
Last year SATIIM objected to the carrying out of seismic surveys in the Park, on the pretext that the small underground explosions would scare off the wild animals that use the park. SATIIM took the matter to court and lost. The court ruled that the Government of Belize has the authority to authorize seismic surveys, even in its national parks.
One does not carry out seismic surveys merely for the sake of research. The surveys are intended to show whether there are realistic prospects for finding oil.
The Prime Minister has said that the surveys in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park show good promise, and has expressed the view that the exploration company, U.S. Capital Energy, should proceed.
This is expected and perfectly normal behaviour for any government, and we commend the Prime Minister and his Government for their resolution to proceed with this important exploration.
If Belize finds oil in Toledo, or anywhere else, everybody in our country will benefit. More of our children will enjoy free education, and our taxes will not be as burdensome as they are today. Oil has a way of attracting petro-chemical industries, and the first industrial cluster in Belize will bring about the beginning of a transformation which is the hope of the nation.
There are some dangers, of course. Oil spills are everybody’s nightmare. But hundreds of other countries have managed their petroleum industry without spills and with good management.
Belize can do the same!