Oceana Belize is well known for its staunch opposition to offshore drilling, and right now, they have a pending litigation against the Government of Belize for the rejection of thousands of the signatures for their referendum which has been denied.
But, that's not the only litigation that Oceana has brought; they also have a pending matter to challenge several of the offshore oil drilling concession contracts which the Ministry of the Natural Resources issued between 2005 and 2007.
Those contracts include the ones issued to Island Oil Belize Limited, Tropical Energy Limited, PetroBelize Company Limited, Princess Petroleum Limited, Providence Energy Belize Limited and Sol Oil Belize Limited.
Oceana will be joined by COLA and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage has also expressed their intent to become interested parties in this case.
Today, attorney Godfrey Smith, who is appearing on behalf of Oceana and proposed interested parties, and Crown Counsel Herbert Panton presented themselves before Justice Legall for the preliminary hearing in which Smith presented Oceana's position.
Panton indicated to the court that GOB intends to make preliminary objections to this challenge, but he asked for more time in order to properly respond.
The matter was adjourned but Justice Legall has only given Panton and the Attorney General's Ministry until May 23 to file their response along with the required affidavits.
It was a very short hearing, but we spoke to Oceana's Vice President, Audrey Matura-Shepherd.
Here's what she told us outside of court:
Audrey Matura - Shepherd - VP, Oceana Belize
"When we initially started the proceedings, Oceana filed the application on the December 21, last year. We knew that we had to do it because it was one of the issues that I had been saying publicly, long before, telling people that these contracts were violated, and if push comes to shove, we will go the courts. So, we decided to go to the court. COLA wants to come on-board because they are a grassroots organization, and honestly, Geovannie Brackett from COLA was one of the first persons pushing the issue. So, they feel that in a way of support, they should be on-board, and they have a lot to offer to the case. The Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, as you know, represents over 36 organizations. And so, while each organization would have wanted to come onboard individually, it would have been cumbersome. But because they're an umbrella organization, they're saying, 'Let us come as one unit, and come forward. The issue with the Coalition is that it took a while for them to make a decision because, of course, when you're managing over 36 members, you have to consult a lot, get a vote, and pass a resolution, and stuff like that. But the timing is right because this is our second case-management appearance at court, and so, this was the right time to have the application presented to the court. Well, we are challenging 6 contracts, and those are the 6 remaining offshore contracts. This case is only about the offshore contract, and the scope of it is basically, we're saying what I've been saying for almost 2 years now, that section 11 of the Petroleum Act says that the only way you can get a contract, is that you have to show that you qualify. And qualifying means that you have to show that you have the machinery, the expertise, the money, the track-record to having done this, most of all, you're actually an oil company who has been involved in the business. As we researched these companies, we realized that except for OPEC, most of them are just speculators. Some of them were just recently formed here in Belize. The best example of that is Princess - which everyone knows, and I've been saying for a while - is a company involved in casinos and gambling. And suddenly, they've come with expertise or they have experts that they can be an oil company. So, these are some of the arguments. It really goes back directly to the law; it's a very straight-forward issue, and that's what we want Belizean people to keep understanding that when these contracts were issued, they were issued in violation of the law. And they were issued almost 7-8 years ago, and we've told this to Government. We've found ways to give them time to reconsider these contracts, and it has not been done. The good thing is that when you have a democracy like we do - and a court system - when there's dispute, and you feel that the law is not being complied with, you go to the courts. You don't take the law into your own hands. And that's we've been doing. It's been a slow, grinding process, but we're prepared to go through the slow, grinding process so that this country moves forward in a very positive way. The court even ordered that they give us discovery. This means that they will give us the documents to dispute what we're saying. I must say that the documents that we were expecting have not been forthcoming. And it's either that they don't exist, or we will hear what they say before the court, but it's very interesting how it will go because I think that if nothing else happens, the Belizean people - for the first time through the court system - will be getting all the information that they could possibly get from the Government to see what went on behind the scenes when these contracts were issued."
Justice Legall has scheduled June 7 as the day when both parties will argue their points before him.