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Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay indicated to Amandala today that the court hearing to review a request made by the Sarstoon Temash Institute of Indigenous Management (SATIIM) and four Maya villages: Conejo, Crique Sarco, Midway, and Graham Creek, for an injunction order to stop US Capital Energy from proceeding with petroleum works inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park will help to resolve the pending issues which lie at the heart of the dispute between the Government of Belize and some Maya communities in Toledo.

The Maya communities in question continue to call on the Government of Belize to consult with them before US Capital begins to drill inside the national park.

Currently, the project is at a virtual standstill, but Alistair King, the representative of US Capital in Belize, told Amandala today that they intend to press ahead as soon as possible, but works, he said, have been delayed because they are still waiting for the rig to arrive from Mexico-and they hope it will by the end of the month.

The parties could not agree on the wording of the final order to propose to the court, so Justice Michelle Arana has issued a perfected order, in line with a ruling she handed down last month, mandating the Government to engage the four claimant communities in consultations, to obtain their free, prior and informed consent.

While the draft order contained in her decision said that the Government should "obtain" that consent, her perfected order specifies that the Government should "seek and make good faith attempts to obtain" that consent.

Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, attorney for the Government of Belize, told Amandala today that the Maya could never have veto powers; he said that both domestic and international law make it clear that the Government must engage in a process of consultation with the Maya.

"No doubt the consultation must [be] meaningful and not window dressing, as the judge puts it. It must be done in good faith and it must be a genuine attempt. So it is the process of consultation that is important," Barrow told us.

He went on to say that it is the Government's view that it has done what it needs to do, in consulting the village of Sunday Wood.

"You may know that there is a document called the Maya Atlas. It shows the boundaries claimed by each community," said Barrow, adding that only the village of Sunday Wood is in the park and "no other village or community." Barrow furthermore asserted that the original permit specifically excluded the lands of Conejo.

He maintains the view that the Government can waive the expiration on the permit which expired at the end of April, and he said that the judge's order cannot apply to that permit because a person "cannot seek the free, prior informed consent for something already done."

SATIIM and the claimant villages continue to hold their ground, despite Government's stance. They are looking forward to the injunction hearing slated for Monday, June 16, 2014.

Meanwhile, King told us that, "The rig is on its way, and it might be in by end of month."

He said that the rig will have the capacity to drill to about 10,000 feet, and US Capital has everything ready on the ground to proceed, once that drill arrives.


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US Capital Energy completes drill pad in Toledo

US Capital Energy Belize is one step closer to drilling oil in the Sarstoon Temash National Park in Toledo. The company has confirmed completion of the drill pad and now awaits the arrival and installation of the rig that will drill for oil. All this while SATIIM and the Maya buffer communities continue to oppose the exercise because they say proper consultation was not carried out. SATIIM has vowed to block the rig from reaching the drill pad.

Patrick Jones

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Drilling equipment lands on Temash National Park

U.S. Capital Energy is tonight one step closer to drilling for oil in the Sarstoon Temash National Park.� On Thursday, a convoy of vehicles carrying heavy equipment used to set up a drill rig entered the country at the northern border.� The fleet is the first of several containing the necessary items to be used for the erection of the platform at Temash Two.� Company representatives say that the assembly of the rig is expected to be completed within a month.� The arrival of the equipment comes at a time when mediation should be taking place between U.S. Capital and the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management, in light of a Supreme Court ruling affirming customary land rights.� U.S. Capital's management team claims that it has instead met with the leadership of the Toledo Alcalde Association to address issues and concerns. This afternoon, News Five spoke by phone with Doctor Michael Tewes, U.S. Capital's Health, Safety and Environment Manager.

Via Phone: Dr. Michael Tewes, Health, Safety & Environment Manager, U.S. Capital Energy

Michael Tewes

"We are informing the general public that today we received the first convoy of trucks carrying the drill rig, as had been contracted by U.S. Capital to drill the first exploratory hole at our drill site in Toledo.� Yesterday we met with the leadership of the Toledo Alcalde Association to address their concerns and to update them on our activities.� We also took them on a tour of our drill site and informed on our mitigation measures to address environmental concerns.� As well, we discussed the safety issues of the site and we pointed out the dangers that unaccompanied persons face if they enter the area.� This site is now and will now be a dangerous worksite if the proper protocols are not followed.� We will, whenever possible, take small groups of leaders to the site in a controlled manner to ensure their personal safety.� As well, we would like to inform the general public that the site is a worksite and unauthorized visits and unauthorized persons should therefore not be in the area unaccompanied."

Isani Cayetano

"Dr. Tewes, I understand that the convoy of trucks carrying the equipment came through the northern border and it's the first of several such trips.� Can you talk to us about the number of vehicles that will be coming into the country with equipment to set up in the drill site area?"

Via Phone: Dr. Michael Tewes

"These drill rigs are set up in an organized manner, the base comes first and each subsequent truck that comes in builds on top of the base until the last one finalizes the assembly and it is dismantled in the same way.� So the convoy comes in a particular order.� We expect to have about fifty-two truckloads coming in, unloading, assembling and then returning back.� But the convoys, we expect, will be anywhere between eight and twelve trucks at a time."

Isani Cayetano

"Have you ascertained based on your studies within the area what the average depth would be in terms of the drilling?"

Via Phone: Dr. Michael Tewes

"Well, we have our environmental compliance plan which allows us to drill, I believe it's down to three thousand meters; however, as you are drilling you are testing the material that's coming up and wherever petroleum is located, you know, that's the place where we will stop.� So at this point we really can't say exactly how deep the well will be."

Isani Cayetano

"How long will it take for you guys to assemble the equipment and commence the actual drilling activity?"

Via Phone: Dr. Michael Tewes

"Okay, now that the equipment is coming in it takes about three weeks or so for the entire rig to come in, so therefore, sometime towards the middle or end of next month we will start drilling."

It is expected that drilling should commence around mid-August.

Channel 5

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Drill rig lands in Toledo as division emerges in Maya camp

Heavy trucks carrying the parts of a drill rig are being mobilized from industrial equipment supplier Pitsa, in Mexico, to Toledo in southern Belize, as US Capital Energy Limited, the company contracted by the Government of Belize to drill for oil in that part of the country, prepares to commence drilling in just over a week.

Alistair King, US Capital's representative in Belize, told Amandala this morning that the company is now trucking in the parts of the rig that will drill an exploratory well 800 meters inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park, amid high optimism that a commercial supply of crude oil will be found.

The rig is being trucked in parts from Mexico and through the Toledo villages of Silver Creek, Santa Ana, Conejo and Sunday Wood, on 53 trucks, the final 15 of which are on the way.

King told us that they hope to commence drilling within 11 days, on Monday, August 18, 2014, and he indicated to us that the company, which he said has spent up to $30 million, with the rental cost of the rig included, has met all the regulatory prerequisites needed to proceed.

King said that two days ago, personnel from the Geology and Petroleum Department were onsite. Officials from the Department of the Environment, who will receive preliminary information from the Geology and Petroleum staff, are due to visit the location next week, King added.

The company rep said that their optimism for striking a commercial find is "very high," and area residents are "upbeat" over the prospects. He said that Sandor Ricketts and Hermil Warren, geologists of Horizon Mud Logging Services, which had done work for Belize Natural Energy (the only petroleum- producing company currently in the country) will be working with their drill team.

Although the company is pressing ahead with on-the-ground works, representatives of the Maya communities surrounding the Sarstoon Temash National Park, where drilling is set to proceed, have issued a statement, decrying what they believe was a pact between select Maya communities and the company, which, they claim, has kept them completely out of the loop.

They claim that the oil company met with the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA), and "the prevailing perception in our communities is that a deal has been reached between the TAA, MLA and US Capital Energy."

Martin Cus, Community Mobilizer for the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), told Amandala Wednesday that they were shocked to hear that the two organizations had discussions with the oil company.

Cus said that the buffer communities had formalized their statement after meeting in the morning with the chairmen and alcaldes of the named communities: Conejo, Crique Sarco, Midway and Graham Creek, who, he said, were not invited to the recent meeting with US Capital Energy.

King said that there was an agreement reached, but that the agreement simply indicated that the company will keep the Maya leaders informed of progress.

In their statement, the reps of four buffer communities of the national park said, "We state categorically that we reject this decision and action taken by the TAA leadership, the MLA and US Capital Energy to engage in meetings and discussions over the resources of our lands in our absence and without our knowledge."

The statement goes on to say that the community leaders, in question, were not involved in the discussions and are not aware of the issues and concerns discussed and were not consulted, nor did their communities give consent to have the TAA leadership and the MLA engage in discussions with US Capital.

"Under Maya customary law, our communities retain the decision-making power or authority and our right to self-determination and as such our communities' position on oil exploration on our ancestral lands continue to be rooted in our claims that have been repeatedly affirmed by the Supreme Court," the statement added.

Cus said that they have received confirmation that the president of the TAA, Alfonso Cal, and the MLA spokesperson, Pablo Mis, were at the meeting.

King confirmed to Amandala that Cal and Mis did meet with US Capital, and that these two men along with a third person whose name he said he could not remember, were taken to the drill site by Dr. Michael Tewes in US Capital's company pickup, because the busload of persons who wanted to see the site could not visit due to the presence of heavy trucks and cranes on the site, which King said, posed safety issues.

The four buffer communities have sought court redress, and the Supreme Court recently reiterated its call to the Government to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the Maya in matters relating to activities on Maya ancestral lands, such as oil drilling. Since the parties had not made progress in their talks, the court issued an order for court-connected mediation with the buffer communities.

Cus insisted that the meetings between the Maya leaders and the company have nothing to do with the court-ordered mediation, mandated by Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana. King agreed that the meetings had nothing to do with the court order. He said that it was the Maya communities which had contacted the company requesting to visit the drill site.

"This mediation still needs to take place," insisted Cus, adding that no mediator has been picked and no date for mediation sessions has been announced. The Supreme Court is now in recess and no decision was made before the break began.

"The [communities] clearly state that they are not against development, but they want to see how best they can negotiate," Cus told us.

Amandala called Mis, the Programme Coordinator of the MLA, several times for comment, but our calls were not answered.


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Midway Village Goes All the Way with US Capital

4 months ago, the Mayan Community of Sunday Wood, located in the Sarstoon Temash National Park Buffer Zone area, openly declared its support for US Capital Energy and its oil drilling explorations. They became the first Mayan community to do so, and tonight, we’ve received reliable reports that another has done the same thing.

Midway and their Alcalde pledged their support for US Capital yesterday in a press conference, which was called right after they met with the District Association for Village Councils (DAVCO).

Midway villagers added that they have always supported the oil company, and that there have been a few members of the community who have been against it. Those few reportedly reached out to SATIIM, and that’s how Midway reportedly ended up on the list of Buffer communities who oppose US Capital.

The villagers say they want the Oil company to assist them to improve the quality of life in those living in the Buffer Community.

Channel 7

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Oil drilling begins on Maya land

Oil drilling in rural Toledo has been a contentious matter in light of the ongoing land rights dispute between the Government of Belize and the indigenous Maya of Toledo, and the new executive director of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), Froyla Tzalam, told Amandala today that she was not aware that drilling had already commenced inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park, which the NGO deems to be indigenous land.

Alistair King, the local representative of US Capital Energy in Belize, told Amandala when we called him this morning that the company has in fact been drilling for three weeks now, and they are now down to 4,000 feet.

Director of Geology and Petroleum, Andre Cho, told Amandala the data being gathered is confidential and he could not discuss specifics with us. Cho indicated, though, that they are monitoring drilling operations and should have some indication as to the prospects at the drill site within the next couple of weeks, and foreseeably, in October.

Attorney for SATIIM, Eamon Courtenay, SC, declined comment when we contacted him. He told us that he also was not aware that drilling had begun. Courtenay also mentioned that Tzalam had tried to reach him earlier today, but he was unavailable at the time.

"I will have to talk to Froyla first and find out exactly what's happening," Courtenay told us.

Tzalam notes that Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana had recently appointed a mediator, Gregory Young, to engage SATIIM and four of the buffer Maya communities near the national park, on the one hand, and the Government of Belize, on the other hand.

However, the Government contends that the mediation cannot proceed, because it has mounted a challenge in the Court of Appeal.

"What happens if oil is found, where does that leave us?" Tzalam questioned.

She expressed the view that the land rights of the Maya are not respected by the Government of Belize.

Amandala [url=]Amandala[/url]

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Drilling surpasses 6,800 feet inside Sarstoon Temash

Dr. Colin Young, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology and Public Utilities, informed Amandala today that US Capital Energy was drilling to depths of 6,850 feet at last report, October 30, 2014, but there is no official information indicating whether there is a commercial supply of oil at the well's location inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP).

Young said that the company faced a setback about two weeks ago when one of its drill bits broke in the well. He said that the company resumed drilling last week, and the specs of the drilling equipment indicate that they could drill as deep as 10,500 feet.

According to Young, they should know within the next few weeks whether there is commercially viable crude at the location.

"The company is still spending significant amount of resources to drill this well and that is an indication that they are still quite hopeful," said Young, who noted, "Government is also hopeful that they will find oil in commercial quantities."


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Drilling beyond 7,000 feet in Sarstoon-Temash

Alistair King, the country representative for US Capital in Belize, confirmed to our newspaper today that the company continues exploratory drilling inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park, and although no commercial find has been discovered even at 7,000 feet below ground level, they remain hopeful that the search will yield positive results.

Whereas the Government of Belize has granted permission for the oil company to drill for oil inside the protected area, two NGOs - the Sarstoon Temash National Park and the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO) - contend that no such drilling should be allowed in the park where extractive use has been strictly regulated.

Members of the surrounding Maya communities have taken issue with the Government's decision to grant the permit to US Capital to enter the national park for oil exploration activities, and four of the surrounding communities have filed a suit against the Government of Belize, challenging its decision.

However, even as drilling proceeds inside the park the matter remains unresolved, and an order by Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana for the parties to undergo court-connected mediation is being resisted by the Government of Belize.

On Friday, November 28, 2014, the parties appeared before Justice Arana, and SATIIM Executive Director Froyla Tzalam said that it became evident that the mediation would not take place after all, because of the Government's stance that the mediation cannot occur due to a pending appeal. She said that the attorneys for the parties presented reasons for and against mediation, and it doesn't seem that the court can mandate the mediation.

Tzalam told us that the court has a huge backlog of cases and mediation is an attempt at resolving matters in a speedier fashion. However, with the delay in the proceedings, drilling has continued inside the national park, since the Maya had not asked the court for an injunction to stop the drilling.

She said that if US Capital does not find oil at the current drill site, they may move elsewhere in the area to conduct further exploratory drilling.

Tzalam said that the fact that there should be no extractive industry inside the national park remains an outstanding issue for APAMO and others, and she said that this is one of reasons why SATIIM has not signed a co-management agreement.

There is also the issue of free, prior and informed consent by the Maya, which Tzalam said could not have happened after meetings held with the Maya, because the information was not properly presented to them in their native language, but in English.

English is a second language for many people, and the information has to be in language they understand, she said.

Tzalam said that Sunday Wood is the only village which has openly welcomed US Capital, and to date, there is no formal agreement between the Maya communities and the Government and US Capital Energy to protect their interests.

Despite talk of blocking oil exploration activities in Toledo, the Maya have not taken to these forms of protests but have sought court redress in challenging the activities. Tzalam said that they will continue to pursue the legal recourse, as lengthy and tedious as it may seem.

Maya leaders of Toledo will have their final appeal in the land rights dispute with the Government of Belize heard at the CCJ in 2015.

Tzalam had worked with the communities when the matter was first lodged in the Supreme Court years ago, in collecting affidavits for the court. She said that SATIIM is very interested in the outcome of the CCJ case.


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US Capital Energy closing shop?

US Capital Energy has packed up its drill rig and shipped it back to Mexico, but Alistair King, the representative of US Capital Energy in Belize, told Amandala today that "it's not over until it's over!" and they intend to import other equipment that would allow them to drill a bit further, as well as perform the kind of appraisal tests they wish to undertake in the months ahead.

US Capital Energy commenced drilling in the latter half of 2014, but to date it has not declared a commercial oil find.

Director of Geology and Petroleum, Andre Cho, told our newspaper today that US Capital wants to go deeper to check out the geological formations, and that they are being allowed to bring in new equipment from Mexico to undertake further exploratory works.

"We released the rig that we had drilling there. It had done its job. We are waiting on specialized equipment to do some further testing," King told us.

He said that they had drilled beyond 9,000 feet, and they intend to soon use "a specialized testing tool" to assess the current well.

As we have previously reported, that site is located within the Sarstoon-Temash National Park (STNP), in Toledo, southern Belize.

King said that they will be testing for gases as well as signs of oil at different stages of the drilling operation.

He said that exploration at the other drill sites won't proceed at this stage, because they will "have to make decisions based on how successful or unsuccessful this one is."


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US Capital abandons US$22 mil well in Sarstoon Temash

For about a year, US Capital Energy has been exploring for crude oil in the Sarstoon Temash National Park in Toledo, southern Belize, but today the company will be sending back the coiled tubing equipment it had imported from the US some weeks ago to do further probing at its first well site inside the national park.

US Capital Energy's country representative, Alistair King, told Amandala that the decision to abandon the well was made because high levels of hydrogen sulfide were being encountered. Breathing very high concentrations of the gas, which has a pungent rotten-egg smell, can lead to death, but in smaller concentrations, it could lead to varying health effects, which include loss of smell, conjunctivitis and lung disease.

According to King, while drilling the well, the company saw positive signs that oil is there, and they also encountered methane and butane. He told us, though, that despite these encouraging signs, the discovery of high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide forced them to plug and abandon the well - a procedure which he said has been approved by the Government.

King told us that they meet with Government officials later this month, to discuss the project, and after that investors will decide whether they will pursue drilling a second well.

King said that a second hole could be drilled 15 feet away from the first well, on the same drill pad, located inside the park. He said that the information gathered from the drilling of the first well could help make drilling of the second well more effective.

We asked how much the project investment has been to date. King told us that the investment in the first well has been roughly US$22 million, and he estimates that US Capital has so far spent US$40 million on oil exploration activities, including preliminary work such as seismic testing in southern Belize.

Due to the company's decision to suspend drilling operations, the company's workforce has been reduced from about 40 persons to a skeleton staff of about 10, King indicated.

Last month, King told Amandala that US Capital had drilled down to 54 feet short of 10,000 feet and had found natural gas and shows of oil. He had also said that the newly imported coiled tubing equipment would have permitted them to drill further and commence extraction for testing, to determine whether the natural gas found was an isolated air pocket, or whether it is an indication of a substantial crude oil deposit further down in the well. Tankers were also being readied for crude export.

The hydrogen sulfide fumes from the drill site have forced the abandonment of those plans.


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