OCEANA Gets Victory: Court Declares PSA’s Illegal

Posted By: Marty

OCEANA Gets Victory: Court Declares PSA’s Illegal - 04/17/13 10:54 AM

For several months now, 7News has been closely following Oceana’s Supreme Court challenge to 6 offshore oil drilling contracts which the Government Issued between 2005 and 2007. Today, that matter concluded in dramatic fashion when Justice Oswell Legall ruled in Oceana’s favor, vindicating the position they took in 2001 – that quite a lot of Production Sharing Agreements aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

The contracts under challenge were those issued to the companies Island Oil Belize Ltd, Tropical Energy Ltd, Petro Belize Company Ltd, Princess Petroleum Ltd, Providence Energy Belize Ltd and Sol Oil Belize Ltd.

After several months of court hearings, Justice Legall delivered the judgment against GOB along with very strict orders, which sends a clear message that the court did not agree with the procedure employed when they were granted by the then Musa Administration.

Oceana’s Vice President, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, was – in a word – ecstatic, and today, she spoke to us outside of court about how challenging it was to get to this outcome.

Audrey Matura-Shepherd – VP, Oceana Belize
"It is a historic day for Belize. It is not about Oceana, it is about this country. I'm hoping that this judgment will give Belizeans the strength they need to know that not everything that the government does, we just have to sit back and take it. We have a judicial system and I've been trying to educate people about the Judicial system for a long time and explain to them that democracy only works when we the people use the systems. The judiciary is a very important part of that system and the dependence of that judiciary is important. To me this ruling today is a victory for the country, for democracy, for the people of this nation and especially a victory for our Barrier Reef that cannot speak for itself and all those beautiful fish that we take for granted that it's there. It's an intricate part of our cultural heritage so it's a wonderful day. I'm sure you all see the excitement on our face. It's wonderful because we have had to tolerate personal attacks, threats and we've been undermined in many ways. Why we don't go public with it because we don't want a red-herring to distract the people from the issue. To me it was worth every sacrifice we made. This decision also vindicates the position of the people, when we had the People's Referendum, when we had 96% of the population said they did not want Offshore Oil. Well here we have it! It's a written decision of a first instance court. The government can take it if they want and appeal it but we're being exonerated today. Belizeans - celebrate, celebrate! Because you are people of the reef.

The court has said that these contracts and null and void. So what happens next is that everyone of those Oil Companies cannot do anything. None of them can continue any seismic testing, they cannot continue anything under that contract. We were given an injunction. An injunction means that it stopped. We will be one of those organizations that will guard and if we have to come to this court room everyday to bring that ruling against those people then we will make sure that this law is obeyed. Let me tell you what happens in this country. Many times the courts gives their ruling and people in government and in authority think that they can undermine the court system and the people will just sit back. I am calling on Belizeans that if they make an attempt to do that, this country will go on mass protest. Because if we are in a democracy; the legislation made a law and you saw that the ruling was based on the environmental act. It is saying that there was an intent that the environment should be protected and if you are to do anything or any development it doesn't mean you can develop, there are processes in place and these processes must be followed."

Channel 7

GOB Says “So What” To Judgment, But Still Appeals

But, how effective is the judgment? It’s a question not clearly answered because although the court has declared them null and void, 3 of the contracts were terminated last week, and 1 of them expired last year. So, the judgment affects only Princess Petroleum Limited and Providence Energy Belize Limited which were extended long before today’s dramatic ruling. And more importantly, GOB still has the authority to issue new contracts to these same companies if they so choose.

So, today we asked Godfrey Smith, attorney for the claimants, to explain what this judgment means for the overall mechanism that GOB has to employ when they grant these Production Sharing Agreements.

He told us that it’s a major signal that the environmental checklists are there for a reason

Godfrey Smith - Attorney for Claimants
"The decision is welcomed because it's the first decision of it's kind involving Oil Exploration Offshore. I'm sure you're aware that there have been judicial challenges in court concerning onshore - the ones on land. This was the first to be challenged to production sharing agreement to offshore oil exploration. The main lesson is that decision makers should take care to ensure that before they enter into production signing agreement, that they are aware of all the full certitude of environmentally connected legislation whether it's the environmental protection act or whether it's some other piece of legislation and marine reserves. Take time to ensure that those are properly honored, not for the sake of pacifying environmentalist but to make sure that once the investor is on the way and has made an investment then he is not faced with these kinds of challenges. In that way both sides are better off. The environmental checklist would have been complied with and the investor himself is then satisfied that the decision maker has followed the laws of the land."

Today, we contacted Denys Barrow, attorney for GOB, who told us that he respects the ruling the court, and also appreciates the jurisdiction of all the courts, including that of the Court of Appeal. The Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology, and Public Utilities said it more clearly today in their press release. They indicated that they will appeal this judgment.

They added that these contracts were granted by the last Musa Administration.

But, until that appeal takes place, GOB must abide by the orders of Justice Legall, which included a declaration that the Production Sharing Agreement are null and void, a declaration that EIA’s are required to be done before any oil contracts could be entered into; an injunction restraining the defendants, servants and agents from carrying out the provisions of the PSA’s; and that the defendants are to pay the cost of the applicants.

Channel 7

Posted By: Marty

Re: OCEANA Gets Victory: Court Declares PSA’s Illegal - 04/17/13 11:08 AM

Offshore Oil contracts are null and void

“This is a victory for the People of Belize, our democracy and the reef of Belize”

Press Release – Oceana Belize – April 16th, 2013 -
oday Justice Oswell Legall handed down the much awaited decision in the case challenging the validity of the offshore oil contracts issued by the Government of Belize in 2004 and 2007 and since then extended in 2009. The decision is a historic one as it chastises the government, especially Cabinet saying that “allowing oil exploration before any assessment of its effects on the environment is not only irresponsible, but reckless, especially in a situation where Belize may not be fully capable of handling effectively an oil spill.”

In his judgment Justice Legall said that the Minister who signed the contracts “exceeded his jurisdiction when he entered into the agreements without first having or considering an environmental impact assessment of oil exploration on the environment”. He explained the entire intention of the Environmental Protection Act is to make environmental assessment so as to protect the environment. Having explained his reasoning for the decision he then handed down the four orders he issued, namely:

1. A declaration that the Production Sharing Agreement (Oil contracts) are null and void for two reasons: one – that no EIA was done before issuing these and; two – they were entered into with companies that did not demonstrate a proven ability to contribute the necessary funds, assets, machinery, equipment, tools and technical expertise for the effective performance of the PSA’s;

2. A declaration that EIA’s are required to be done before any oil contracts could be entered into;

3. An injunction restraining the defendants, servants and agents from carrying out the provisions of the PSA’s; and

4. The defendants are to pay the cost of the applicants.

“This is a great day for the people and country of Belize and its democratic process and it shows that us, as ordinary citizens, need not sit back and only complain about all the wrong decisions our Government makes, but we can use the Judiciary to settle these… This is what happened in this case,” said Audrey Matura-Shepherd VP Oceana, which is the organization that initiated the case in December 2011. They were later joined by the Coalition To Save Our Natural Heritage and COLA as co-claimants, an application the Government had vehemently objected to.

“Our laws are made to be followed by all because none is above the law and so for the court to point out where the Government violated these very laws such as the Petroleum Act, and the Environmental Protection Act, in issuing these oil contracts, will surely give confidence to our citizens at a time when many have become weary of improper ministerial exercise of power. This invigorates us to continue our work to call for a ban of all offshore oil exploration and drilling in our Belizean waters,’ added Matura-Shepherd

The ruling is historic and has grave implications for all these oil companies who have either been doing seismic testing or gearing up to start exploratory wells.
Posted By: Marty

Re: OCEANA Gets Victory: Court Declares PSA’s Illegal - 04/23/13 10:37 AM

Oceana in Belize publicly calls on the Government of Belize not to ignore the lessons to be learnt from our neighbors in the north. On Jan 6, 2011 Hon. Prime Minister Dean O. Barrow in a public statement said:

“My position in terms of offshore drilling remains the same and that is that there is no position currently. We are looking at all that you people say, all that the advocates against offshore drilling, all that those advocates say, we are looking what is being given to us by our own experts and that the appropriate time a decision will have to be made. I am telling you that we are not going to lightly ignore written contracts, this is not a Michael Aschroft type scenario, these are legitimate contracts, not outlaw agreements and we simply can't walk away from those agreements.”

Since this statement the Government’s position has been that there will be on and offshore oil drilling and has embarked on a zonation plan, which in its draft form already is over all marine protected areas in Belize. (See map below)

However, these very contracts that the Prime Minister called “legitimate contracts, not outlaw agreements” have been declared by the Supreme Court of Belize as “unlawful, null and void.

Oceana calls on the Government to reconsider its position on offshore oil drilling and to view the decision by the Supreme Court as an opportunity to step back and reconsider the oil policy they inherited from the previous administration and which they have been implementing. Oceana sees this as an ideal time to get rid of all these violating contracts, return to the people to get a mandate on offshore oil drilling before re-issuing any offshore oil contracts.

In the meantime no new contracts authorizing oil exploration and seismic surveys can be issued without complying with the ruling of the Justice Legall, which declared that before any such contracts or agreements can be entered into an Environmental Impact Assessment must be done.

The ruling is historic and has grave implications even for existing onshore contracts.

Posted By: Marty

Re: OCEANA Gets Victory: Court Declares PSA’s Illegal - 04/23/13 10:59 AM

PUP Accepts Fault For Voided PSA’s?

The PUP today issued an interesting release commending Supreme Court Justice Oswell Legall for a judgment in which he found that a former PUP government had acted wrongly. Legall found that six production sharing agreements were voice because no environmental assessment was carried out before the agreements were awarded, and contracts were given to companies that were unqualified. Those contracts were signed during the last PUP government, but today a party release says, quote, “The PUP fully supports the Court rulings and pledges to abide by these decisions in a PUP government.”

Speaking of the other major judgment handed down by Legall last week, in which he found that short term contracts for Judges are unconstitutional, the PUP calls those, quote, “attempts by the Barrow Administration to undermine the Rule of Law and the independence of the Judiciary.”

The government plans to appeal both judgments.

Channel 7
Posted By: Marty

Re: OCEANA Gets Victory: Court Declares PSA’s Illegal - 04/25/13 10:52 AM

Coalition strongly refutes statements made by the Ministry of Energy

The Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage strongly refutes statements made by representatives of the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology and Public Utilities, Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Colin Young and Director of Petroleum, Andre Cho on Thursday, April 18 on the Open Your Eye show on Channel 5. The Ministry representatives stated that no non-governmental organization objected to the zoning of the offshore into different categories as presented in the Government’s draft zonation plan. It should be noted that Government’s draft zonation would allow for oil exploration in almost 95% of Belize’s offshore (see map 1).

In early 2012, the Coalition commissioned a technical analysis of Government’s draft zoning proposal. The entire study “An Analysis of Zoning of Petroleum Exploration” as well as a Policy Brief with recommendations was presented to Minister Joy Grant and the Ministry’s technical team, including Dr. Young, in a meeting held on June 7, 2012. The technical analysis showed that with necessary buffers in place and using Government’s criteria of significant features and additional information, the offshore came out as off-limits to oil exploration. To quote from the conclusion on page 25 of the document: “Given the need for wide safety buffers around Belize's principal marine assets, a zoning as has been attempted here for terrestrial Belize is not realistic for the marine sector of Belize.” This conclusion was verbally reiterated at the June 7th meeting as the document was reviewed.

The Coalition has written to Minister Grant requesting the Ministry correct the public statements made.

The Coalition has continued to request follow up meetings with the Ministry as well as participatory inclusion into the focus group that is drafting the zoning plan. While the Coalition has always and will continue to seek information sharing, participation and consultation with the Government, and in particular the Ministry of Energy, the Coalition insists that all parties operate from a position of integrity and transparency.

For An Analysis of the Zoning of Petroleum Exploration & Development Blocks Proposal Developed by the Geology and Petroleum Department, CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE for Policy Brief 2, "Strengthening Belize's Petroleum Industry: Improving Legislation, Oversight, Concession Siting and Safeguarding Ecosystem Services and Existing Resources Use" - for the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology, and Public Utilities.

Map eliminating Ministry of Energy's draft zonation plan for the offshore. CLICK HERE for a larger version of this map

Posted By: Marty

Re: OCEANA Gets Victory: Court Declares PSA’s Illegal - 04/26/13 11:34 AM

Environmental Coalition says Government made major offshore error

Tanya Williams

The Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage has issued a press release on claims made by representatives of the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities in regards to offshore zoning. The Ministry representatives appeared on our morning show last week. The coalition is taking issue with statements made by the ministry that non-governmental organizations did not object to the zoning of the offshore into different categories. The Coalition has taken those comments very seriously, and today coalition representative Tanya Williams told News Five in no uncertain terms that the government representatives have it wrong.

Tanya Williams, Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage

“There was an error in what the government representatives from the ministry said. They mentioned that no non-governmental organization had ever objected to the offshore being zoned off. What zoning would mean is that some part of the offshore would be opened to oil exploration. In fact, the Belize Coalition last year met with the Ministry of Energy including the C.E.O., Doctor Young, who was on the show and actually made the statement. And we presented an analysis of the zonation framework to them. Within that analysis, it was pointed out that the offshore could not be zoned off because you had to take into account sensitive ecosystems, you had to take into account the need for buffers especially for the oil industry itself for safety reasons. So because of that, the entire territorial water of Belize could not be zoned off for oil exploration.”

Jose Sanchez

“Have you approached the Ministry of Energy for clarification?”

Tanya Williams

“We have. We have written to the ministry pointing out what I had just stated about our meeting when we presented that document to the minister and the C.E.O.; that we also presented a policy brief that included our recommendation on offshore being off limits. And so we are waiting for a clarification from the ministry on the error that was made on the Open Your Eyes show.”

Jose Sanchez

“If the ministry would disagree that what they said was in fact truth. How would that affect the entire issue in terms of court cases regarding offshore exploration?”

Tanya Williams

“I don’t think it has a legal ramification on the case that was in court. What it does have an impact on is how do we go on from here? Are we operating with integrity? Can we really sit down and discuss and believe that the discussions are open discussions and that we are being honest with each other? And it won’t be the next two weeks that you are taking from your partners and your taking it and using it in a different way. So it doesn’t impact legally but it does impact in terms of partnership.”

Jose Sanchez

“Do you feel that the recommendation from the coalition will be taken into recommendation?”

Tanya Williams

“The coalition will continue to advocate and lobby with government to ensure that these recommendations are taken into account when you are looking at zonation of our offshore and onshore as well. And we will continue to advocate with the people of Belize for them to understand the need for us to have the offshore off limits and for them to continue to pressure government.”

Jose Sanchez

“There may be others in the NGO committee who may not be against offshore, but believe that it can be properly managed. Is that something you would disagree with?”

Tanya Williams

“I think each person and each organization should have their own opinion of course those opinions need to be back up by fact which we did when dealing with our analysis. So we don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with what the coalition’s position is. But we know what our position is and we have stated our position which is the problem that we have with the statements that were made.”

The Coalition has written to Minister Joy Grant to request a public clarification of the errors which were made.

Channel 5

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