Appeal filed by activist group against oil companies
– over alleged non-approval of environmental permits
A group of local activists have filed an appeal in the court challenging the legality of the Government in granting production licences to two major oil companies without first granting them an environmental permit to operate offshore Guyana.
Ramon Gaskin, one of the group’s members, in whose name the application was made against the Government and Natural Resources Minister, said the appeal is at the Guyana Court of Appeal, challenging a High Court judge’s decision not to grant a temporary order against oil companies Hess and Nexen.
Gaskin, an outspoken economist, told Guyana Times on Sunday that although the Government has since come out to state that it would defend the companies, the group has decided that filing the appeal would be most appropriate to get the Government to ensure the full protection of the environment.
The activist views the judge’s non-approval of the temporary order as an error in the law. He maintained that the case must be taken seriously, as there are provisions within the Environmental Act and the application of the environmental law to ensure that permits are granted in full.
Gaskin, through his attorney, Melinda Janki, argued that Hess and Nexen are not covered by the environmental permits issued to ExxonMobil through its local subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited. As such, he wants to see that these companies are issued separate permits to operate.
Janki said Government’s granting of licences to drill was illegal. Under local law, a licence to drill can be granted only if an environmental permit has been obtained by the company involved.
“It is very simple. If you want to extract oil in Guyana, you need an environmental permit in order to get a petroleum production licence… Only one of the three companies involved has an environmental permit. We are seeking an order to quash the decision by the minister to issue the licence, because we are saying he acted illegally,” the attorney told the UK Guardian recently.
Despite her comments, the Government has said that while it respects the right of every citizen to seek recourse in law in pursuit of interests it believes to be worthy, it feels confident that every action it (Govt) took with regard to the issuance of the petroleum production licence met all legal requirements.
The Ministry of Natural Resources has said that this sort of action is not unusual in emerging oil economies, particularly during the stage leading up to first oil, at which Guyana currently is.
Since filing the appeal application, the group of activists, have launched a campaign through Crowd Justice, dubbed “A Fair Deal for Guyana – A Fair Deal for the Planet.” Gaskin said the objective of the campaign is to raise funding to ensure that Government and the oil companies obey the law, and to enable concerned citizens to protect the environment for present and future generations.
While the lawyers for the group have been offering pro bono work, it has been recognized that it’s a huge undertaking to challenge the Government and what they described as the powerful oil sector. The activists said Guyana has a strong legal regime for protecting the environment. As such, they intend to use these laws to safeguard biodiversity and protect the environment for present and future generations.
“We know it will require significant legal time and costs. Nevertheless, we believe that we must do everything legally possible to protect our common home, and to ensure that the Government and the oil companies obey the law. We owe this to our children and grandchildren,” the group said.
More importantly, however, the group said it recognizes that the seas surrounding Guyana are under threat by these big oil companies. It said it also believes that the Government is putting the natural world and the home of all Guyanese in danger, something that it is not prepared to allow to continue.
The group also noted that no one seems to be paying attention to the impact of oil production on global climate change, which, according to them, is the biggest threat to life on earth.