This Wednesday marks one year since two hundred million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill, which gushed into the Gulf from BP’s blown-out well, killed eleven men and injured several others. But today, Oceana says that a disaster like that or even on a smaller scale can be a major catastrophe for Belize. Audrey Matura Sheppard, V.P of Oceana Belize, says that the time couldn’t be more appropriate, because it has been one year since it was discovered that majority of Belize’s land and water was parceled out to about eighteen oil companies. She also told News Five that they are within reach of seventeen thousand signatures to force a referendum on oil exploration.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, V.P., Oceana Belize
“It was a perfect timing in a sense that we found out about the future of our country and potential oil industry just at a time when the U.S was experiencing one of the worst disaster ever in the history of their oil industry. And there are certain things we need to highlight, since then the people at the U.S Department, be it the independent studies done through the company or government, they have found that, every oil spill is a unique one, well it’s really a disaster, everyone is unique. But the highlights we would want to keep in mind is that, that was an exploratory well, that was in very deep water that even with all the regulations they had in play, this disaster occurred. And so bringing that to home now, we know that the disaster could be the worst case scenario, we have a far more sensitive ecosystem, we have the second most largest barrier reef, which they don’t have; we have a smaller economy, that area they covered with that oil spill is just a little piece of their coast, for us that’s our entire coast and you have to put things in perspective. We don’t want to frighten people; we want people to know the worst case scenario.”
“So going back to that point made earlier, should Belize experience a similar incident that took place in the U.S, you’d say that we’re not prepared for something of that magnitude here in Belize?”
“We are absolutely not prepared if there is even a minute disaster because it doesn’t even have to be an oil rig, it could be an oil tanker that’s travelling. We only have a draft disaster response for oil spills, it’s dated 2009 and it hasn’t even moved forward. A simple thing like our regulations, our petroleum regulations, our regulations states that our Minister should appoint a pollution control board if he deems fit. We’ve discovered oil like since 2002 and we’ve never had a pollution control board. We don’t have what it takes, in terms of the training and in terms of the material, physically things you need to go out at sea.”
“I know that you need seventeen thousand signatures, what has the progress been like towards the steps to getting that referendum?”
“Exceptional, exceptional response. We’re proud to report that we have over fourteen thousand signatures already. We’re on the countdown for three thousand and even when we get that three thousand doesn’t mean that we’ll stop getting signatures.”
Matura-Sheppard said that after the seventeen thousand signatures have been compiled they will to hand it in to the Governor General, who in turn will hand it in to the Elections and Boundaries Office. It will follow a series of procedures, but will take roughly three months for a referendum order to be issued. If you’d like more information on the referendum, you can lookout for Oceana in San Pedro, where they will be holding a fundraiser this Easter Weekend.