Government actively preparing for the eventuality of oil spills, mishaps

Dear Editor,

The Natural Resources Ministry thanks Ms Melinda Janki for raising her very valid concerns in a Letter to the Editor entitled ‘Exxon’s environmental record does not bear scrutiny’ on March 8, 2017, and entitled ‘Not comfortable with the Minister’s assurance about oil spills’ in another section of the media on March 9.

Guyana is committed to advancing its green agenda; hence the preservation of the environment is foremost among any concerns in consideration of any economic or infrastructural activity. As we embark on oil and gas exploration and production, these considerations take on a heightened relevance and it is for this reason that the Government is carefully and assiduously building the capacity of the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) and is working with private service providers who have expressed an interest in assisting with spill response. The Government expects to be as prepared as can be at the time of “first oil” in a few years ahead.

While we recognise that there is no well, offshore or onshore, that is 100 per cent foolproof or spill-safe, we do not take lightly our obligation to ensure that we make our best effort at putting world class safeguards in place.

It is encouraging to see that Ms Janki believes ExxonMobil and its partners Hess and Nexen “must be made to carry out this oil venture in compliance with the law, using the best available technology, and with systems designed to protect, not damage, the environment.” This is the mandate given to the operators both by contract and by legislation.

We believe this is a standard that is achievable. It is for this reason that we are seeking the best knowledge on the subject of safety and environmental stewardship as we develop the sector.

Guyana is currently building local capacity at various levels in terms of its response to a spill. While it is a fact that the operator is contractually obligated to be the first responder to a mishap, this in no way removes the obligation of the Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana from taking all of the necessary measures to ensure that a national response can be triggered should the need arise.

As mentioned by the letter writer, national and regional agencies comprise the local Civil Defence Commission and the regional Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) – these can and will be activated as needed.We also expect to have bilateral arrangements with the Governments of the United States of America and Trinidad and Tobago whose scope will include capacity building in spill response and operational support in the event of a mishap.

Regarding Ms Janki’s concerns about the use of the oil funds for the preservation of the environment, we share her view and are working with the guidance of our overseas partners to craft a Sovereign Wealth Fund that will ensure that not only the environment benefits from the revenues garnered from oil, but also the people of Guyana for now and generations to come. Indeed, the Environmental Trust Fund established under the Environmental Protection Agency Act is expected to receive adequate deposits, from natural resources revenues, to be used to protect our precious biodiversity.

Yours faithfully,

N Johann Earle