Oil exploration plan raises concerns

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 20, No. 19            May 13, 2010

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    Recently, word hit the media that “oil and gas from onshore and offshore blocks in Belize will be explored, drilled and brought into production, through a joint venture agreement between Princess Petroleum Limited of Belize and the Treaty Energy Corporation (OTCBB: TECO) of Houston, Texas USA, a growth-oriented energy company in the oil and gas industry .

    According to reports Princess received one of 17 concessions from the government of Belize to explore for oil and natural gas. As part of the joint venture, Treaty will have the right to explore for oil and gas on a total of 2,000,000 acres. The concession consists of 1,800,000 acres of off shore exploration, and 200,000 acres of onshore exploration.

    Based on initial findings, Treaty is targeting a 10,000 acre area in the south central part of Belize to place its first well. This site is located off the southern highway which provides quick access to ports in Punta Gorda and Belize City.

    Treaty intends to start drilling its first well no later than July 1, 2010. Other groups are starting to come to Belize to explore the offshore area that Treaty believes will produce huge wells that could produce thousands of barrels per day based on information supplied to Treaty by its satellite surveys. Most of the offshore areas in Treaty’s concession are in shallow water and many locations showing hydrocarbon deposits have small land formations, which would make it very economical to drill in terms of offshore drilling costs.

    Treaty is scheduled to begin to analyze the offshore concession towards the end of this year, 2010, using satellite and other methods to help in the selection of optimal locations for well sites.

    A diagram distributed with a press release issued OCEANA on May 11th highlights the concession areas and shows that the offshore plot runs right below Belize’s maritime frontier with Mexico, at the Boca Bacalar Chico, running east of Ambergris Caye and San Pedro, and right along the highly prized reef system. The concession area also covers a significant portion of the Turneffe Atoll and the Lighthouse Reef. The plot ends just north-east of Glovers Reef.

    Director of Petroleum, Andre Cho, in an interview on April 7th stated that the decision to make the reef areas off-limit areas would be up to Cabinet or policy makers in Government to reserve certain areas and make them off-limits to petroleum drilling. Every square inch of Belize can be parceled out, said Cho, “...up to your backyard.” Cho also noted that any company permitted to explore for petroleum in Belize still has to get the requisite permits from the Forest Department, the Department of the Environment, and other government entities. The parties would have to apply to DOE for permits, which may require the company to conduct an environmental impact assessment.

    Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow stated that “the time has come to rethink the granting of petroleum concessions along those environmental lines. The existing concession areas”, said Barrow, “were inherited from the former administration. Going forward, said Barrow, government should look at excluding sensitive areas from petroleum concessions.”

    According to the press release issued by OCEANA, an organization dedicated to Protecting the World’s Oceans, the group stressed strong opposition to any offshore drilling in Belizean territorial waters and explained that all it takes is one spill of the magnitude of the Gulf Oil spill for Belize to lose everything. The organization furthermore expressed grave concern with the concessions already granted in Belize’s territorial waters especially seeing that they include declared reserves and national parks. Oceana’s VP for Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd stated that “while we wish for our country to develop and progress we cannot do so to the detriment of our long-term survival. The recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana has shown us that even a rich and highly advanced country like the great USA is not equipped to handle such disaster, and thus this should teach us to proceed with much caution as one accident ten times less can wipe out our entire coastline and send Belize into an economic depression never seen before.”

    Many residents of Ambergris Caye and other concerned organizations are appalled at the decision and are deeply concerned for the potential negative impacts that this decision could have on our tourism industry, the fishing industry, our underwater eco system and on all coastal communities.

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