Coalition Against Offshore Drilling meets in San Pedro

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 20, No. 25            June 24, 2010

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    After the initiative of the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) to extend an invitation to the Belize Coalition opposing drilling offshore and in protected areas (Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage); the team comprising of Ms. Melanie McField of Healthy Reefs Initiative; Ms. Audrey Matura – Shepherd, Vice-President, Oceana; and Mr. Edilberto Romero of the Association of Protected Areas Management Organization (APAMO), along with Ms. Amelita Knowlax – Stand UP, Speak UP; visited San Pedro on Tuesday June 24th, where they held a conference in the confines of the Sun Breeze Conference Room at 5:30pm.

    The general public was invited to actively participate in the seminar, which lasted about two and a half hours. Commencing was a presentation of the book, “Stand Up, Speak UP”, by Ms. Amelita Knowax. The book serves as a Guide to Public Participation in Belize, and provides detailed information on accessing public information and how to be actively involved in public decision making and clarification of very important laws pertaining to the Freedom of Information act, the Environmental Protection and the Ombudsman Act.

    During the presentation, participants were invited to gain knowledge of the laws of Belize governing petroleum, drilling, collecting and the exportation process.

    One interesting factor that stood out in the Petroleum Act was that, {3(1) the entire property in and control over all petroleum and accompanying substances, in whatever physical state located on or under the territory of Belize or in areas of the Continental Shelf in which rights of exploration and exploitation are exercisable by Belize are hereby vested exclusively in the Government of Belize. (2) Notwithstanding the provisions of substance (1), a contract may provide for a contractor to acquire property in, title to, or control over any petroleum within Belize. (3) subject to section 31, the provisions of subsections (1) and (2) shall have effect notwithstanding any rights which any person may possess in or over the soil on or under which petroleum is discovered.} Ms. Matura – Shepherd went on to elaborate on Section (3) of the Petroleum Act, “Any petroleum rights beneath your property are owned exclusively by the Government of Belize Section (3) of the Petroleum Act. Being that the Government owns it, they have the right according to section (2) to contract it out to different oil companies, and section (3) goes on to further disclose that if Government fells that there is Petroleum below your Property, then your rights to your land no longer exists.”

    The financial aspect of oil exploration and exploitation in our offshore areas were covered by Mr. Edilberto Romero. He presented the ($) cost and ($) benefit comparison. While in his presentation, the financial benefit to the general Belizean population from oil exploration and exploitation is close to nil; what was even more disturbing was that environmental impact that oil exploration alone would cause to our natural environment.

    The purpose of the seminar, according to Mr. Romero, was to provide information to the people in a summary format on the importance and uniqueness of the marine systems and the barrier reefs and the many services we get from them, such as the value we get in terms of fishers. Secondly, the economic value of our marine and barrier reef systems in comparison to oil exploration benefits in terms of what we stand to lose were explored. Financially, if all the oil companies are successful in producing oil at the level of Belize Natural Energy Ltd. (BNE), the Government will be getting US $209,000,000 per year. When compared with fisheries and tourism, this is still less than what we are making right now. Tourism presently generates US $150 – 196,000,000 for the country while Fisheries is responsible for generating US $164,000,000 per year. The other idea was to bring across the picture to people as far as what we stand to lose, consider the protection benefits we get from our reefs and mangroves against erosion and the devastating effects of tropical storms and hurricanes. Thirdly, the group was informed about the legal system that is in place that regulates petroleum exploration and production as well as discussing how our legal system is weak and does not offer protection to the people nor the environment and makes no provision for health risks and so forth. Currently the monitoring and regulation system is weak and the capacity is not there, so the country stands to lose a lot should oil exploration be allowed in our offshore areas.

    Participants were very receptive to the information presented. In a telephone interview with Mr. Romero, he informed The San Pedro Sun that, “I think we did accomplish what we set out to. From the response of the people, they were more aware and knowledgeable of what the actual production of oil brings to Belize and what the threats are. I think they left with an awareness that it is not worth risking our marine and tourism industry.”

    The Coalition is presently working on their website where, once completed, this presentation will be accessible for individuals wishing to become more informed.
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