Environmentalist expresses worry over absent oil spill contingency plan
…Guyana still without plan despite EPA promising one by mid-2019
Despite Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Head Dr Vincent Adams promising to have the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan finished by mid-2019, Guyana is well into the second half of the year and this critical document is yet to be completed. According to one well-known environmentalist, the absence of this document is worrying.
In an interview with this publication on Saturday, founder of the Guyana Marine Conservation Society (GMCS) and aviator, Annette Arjoon-Martins spoke about the challenges regarding environmental advocacy and oil.
“I’m very outspoken about things I come across, from my own experiences in the marine environment. For example, the fact that we do not have a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan as yet. It is greatly disturbing.”
She pointed out that in her experience, having conversations and interacting with oil companies regarding environmental issues is no walk in the park, particularly without a structure in place. Martin stressed the need for independent Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to be able to play their part.
“I think it’s imperative that we have some kind of independent effort, so persons like myself and there are many of us, who know [protected areas], how do we have that kind of independent national element, I don’t see a lot of willingness by the oil companies to work with NGOs like myself,” she said.
“My experience is we don’t speak the same language as them. We are very independent in our views. So I think they should look at having mechanism to have these conversations… if you’re looking at the monitoring aspect of marine environment, you must have Guyanese organisations that have decades of experience and a physical presence along our coastline. We must be involved in any monitoring programme.”
Guyana’s last taste of an environmental disaster was a cyanide spill in 1995. In gold mining, cyanide is used as an extracting agent for the ore. In the case of Guyana’s cyanide spill, the highly poisonous material spilt out of a reservoir into the Essequibo River.
Since ExxonMobil announced its oil find in the Liza-1 well in 2015, a pertinent question has been the capacity of the relevant agencies to protect the environment in case of an oil spill. It is a topic that has regularly been raised at public lectures.
Previously, President David Granger commissioned Guyana’s first oil spill response operation service at the Gaico Wharf at Nismes, West Bank Demerara – Gaico Oil Spill Response Operation Services. The service was set up as a pre-emptive measure against probable spillage once production commences in the future.
The Gaico company began in 1991, with owner Komal Singh working on small construction projects in Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara). At the commissioning, Singh had stated that he had noticed that there are a number of near-misses of oil spills and decided to pursue the avenue of preparing for one in Guyana.
“Should there be a spill anywhere we can respond within 24 hours,” he said, adding that the company is in the process of putting together documents to gain approval for an oil spill facility which will collect the contaminated soil and process it.
A study by the EPA had found that while an oil spill was possible, factors such as the location of ExxonMobil affiliates’ operations, combined with the region’s water temperature would minimise the effects.
On the side of the Government, it is understood that efforts have been underway to train and build capacity in the Natural Resources Ministry. When it comes to the oil spill contingency plan, a workshop was organised in March of this year to work on the draft. Civil Defence Commission (CDC) Head, Colonel Kester Craig was recently quoted saying that the long-overdue plan was almost complete.