The Office of the Prime Minister announced via a statement on Wednesday, February 2, 2011, that it had decided to put a temporary freeze on the granting of any new petroleum exploration concessions in the area that was relinquished by a company owned by the Taiwan government in October 2010. The area spans roughly 1,800 square miles.
It is not the complete ban of offshore exploration that the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage has been appealing for, but it does concede to a request the Coalition had made last week, asking the government not to reissue any new contracts for that area vacated by a Taiwan company.
The Overseas Petroleum and Investment Corporation (OPIC), the international investment arm of the Chinese Petroleum Corporation (CPC), of Taipei, Taiwan, had sealed the oil exploration deal with the Government in 2008, although talks had been initiated under the administration of former Prime Minister Said Musa.
“Cabinet at its meeting on Tuesday, 1st February 2011, decided not to give back out, at this time, any of the area relinquished by OPIC,” said the statement from the Office of the Prime Minister.
It also noted that, “The area held under contract represents almost 25% of Belize’s offshore area and totals approximately 1.14 million acres, spanning from east of Belize City to eastern Placencia offshore.”
By saying “at this time,” the government is making it clear that the decision to freeze the block is not intended to be a permanent one.
Meanwhile, the largest offshore concession granted to Princess Petroleum back in October 2007 remains intact.
In October 2006, Musa’s Cabinet had announced that it had given OPIC the green light to study seismic data in Belize, and to study and identify oil and gas potential in offshore areas of Belize.
An international industry source reported in June 2008 that old seismic data indicated that a total of 9 wells had been drilled on the acreage assigned to OPIC, and two recorded oil shows while a third recorded oil and gas shows.
Amandala had been informed that OPIC had not been meeting previous deadlines under the Musa agreement.
Last week, Prime Minister Barrow told our newspaper that the Taiwanese company had abandoned the contract because the finds did not appear to the company to be promising—not in response to pressure from conservationists in Belize.
The government statement made no reference to a more recent concession granted in 2010 to Paradise Energy Limited, co-owned by Kimano Barrow, nephew of Mr. Barrow, and Alfredo Acosta—a concession which the Opposition People’s United Party is calling on the Barrow administration to revoke, in light of current opposition to oil exploration in protected areas. The concession—covering the largest onshore block—spans a vast acreage (over a million areas) of the Maya Mountains and 14 protected areas, including those closed to extractive uses. It also encompasses the Citrus Valley.