Treaty Energy resumes drilling despite the potential dangers to communities
As we reported on Friday, Treaty Belize Energy’s drilling operations are in full throttle in San Juan Three in the south. The company shares a joint venture with Princess Petroleum and that license was among a list of six that were declared null and void by the Supreme Court. The government is appealing that decision and Treaty Belize Energy will be applying for a stay. But before all that can happen, operations resumed late last week since the company says it has legal advice from Princess’ attorneys; to the effect that it can proceed with its operations in the area. But there is another aspect which is affecting nearby communities. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
San Juan, a small, predominantly Hispanic community, is a roadside neighborhood of approximately six hundred people. Located just a few miles outside of Independence, it sits in the heart of the banana belt. Less than a mile away is Cow Pen, an older community with a population twice its size. San Juan, by comparison, is fledgling. To aid in its development residents here were promised many things, including the electrification of the village’s water supply system. These assurances were made by representatives of Treaty Belize Energy, regardless of an oil find. Thus far, that covenant isn’t being honored.
Zabdiel Martinez, Village Chairman, Cow Pen/San Juan
“Some of the projects that we had agreed to was to get some materials for the village to upgrade some of the streets, to remodel our police station or even the construction of a new police station, also the fencing of our school, San Juan Bosco R.C. School, the upper campus at Cow Pen Village.”
Zabdiel Martinez is the newly re-elected village chairperson. Along with local businessman Dennis Morey, he signed a tripartite agreement with Treaty for the improvement of both communities. Morey, who operates a trucking company and is currently mining sand and gravel from the banks of a nearby river, is more than willing to assist in the development of the twin villages.
Dennis Morey, Trucker
“I made an agreement with Cow Pen/San Juan village council to supply materials to [Treaty Belize Energy] petroleum company for the upkeep of their base, where they’re doing their drilling and the access roads in and out and other road maintenance within, which would be occurring from time to time within the villages of which a percentage goes to the village council from my behalf.”
To do so, Morey would give five percent of his total earnings from an existing contract with Treaty to the village council, monies that are earmarked for public service. The initial agreement was for Treaty to purchase a minimum of two hundred loads of material to fill the roads leading to and from the San Juan Three well. In turn, the village would receive a small portion of the proceeds. That has not been the case.
“The village council really needs the percentage that they are getting. It’s a small percentage but yet it counts and when we add up two hundred loads at five dollars a load alright, that’s an extra thousand dollars that the village council would be getting that they could put into different infrastructure, helping out the villagers within the village.”
While the company is yet to honor those agreements there are other concerns. San Juan Three, as the site is referred to, is an unsecured location with what are seemingly inadequate precautions. It is smack-dab between San Juan and Cow Pen. The area is not walled off from the public nor is it manned with proper security personnel.
“The fencing for security is poor. Anybody can go in there, animals can go in there, children can go in there. So, in that I feel that the company itself has failed in that.”
That sentiment is echoed by an erstwhile worker.
Voice of: Former Employee, Treaty Belize Energy
“No consultation was made concerning safety in that region. Treaty didn’t meet with the village community. I know they met with leaders of the community.”
“As a former employee, what were some of your concerns with regards to going into that community and carrying out this exercise without first adhering to certain standard procedures and secondly, without informing the residents of the potential hazards that come along with this type of activity?”
“Isani, it’s of great interest because people could be hurt, the population of the village could be hurt, so they should have done some kind of seminar to let people be aware of what’s taking place.”
Notwithstanding the lack of public awareness, residents are cautiously optimistic of an oil find. Striking black gold here could stir economic activity for the entire area. San Juan would also be the epicenter of the oil industry in South Stann Creek.
“The company is saying if we do find oil there’s going to be development. Development is going to be high in this area thus, some of the sentiments from the people are saying hopefully they find oil. Since we are having a lack of assistance from central government, you know, I think we rely on other organizations or projects that can come in and help our villages, you know. So people were saying [that] if they do find oil then probably we’re going to have a new school, a new computer lab, a new police station. So that was their sentiment. I think they were just hoping for the projects to happen.”
Those expectations are proving to be lofty. With no immediate signs of success there is a certain possibility that the company, at the end of exploration, will relocate and instead of leaving behind proper roads and drainage its wake will only be a boulevard of broken dreams. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
Efforts to get comment from local representatives of Treaty Belize Energy have been unsuccessful.