Liza Unity FPSO oil leak: Assessment team’s report will determine “course of action” – EPA head

Almost four weeks after it was announced that the Liza Unity FPSO vessel had experienced an oil leak, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is yet to complete its report on the incident; but according to EPA Executive Director Kemraj Parsram, the team has been able to gather critical information.
Parsram told Guyana Times on Wednesday that the assessment team had travelled offshore to where the Liza Unity vessel is pumping oil in the Stabroek Block in order to investigate and conduct interviews onboard that vessel. He said the team was able to use in-house monitoring capabilities in using satellite imagery to determine the size of the oil slick (a film or layer of oil floating on an expanse of water) and to calculate the volume of the spill.
“To date, that volume is making up to what Exxon reported. In fact, it was slightly under one barrel of oil. There is a methodology… based on the slick size and area of the slick, and the calculation is used to estimate the volume. So, the volume spilled was confirmed as they reported,” the EPA Head explained.
Parsram noted that the full findings of the investigation would be made public once the team completes and hands over its final report. This, according to him, should be done in the coming days.

EPA Executive Director Kemraj Parsram

“We don’t want to go out sharing information piecemeal. We want to do a complete assessment,” he explained.
The EPA Head further posited that, based on the findings and recommendations in the report, it would be determined whether or not any action would be taken against the oil major over the incident.
“It depends on the scale of the situation; the report and the findings will determine the course of action. It’s not automatically that you’ll say, ‘Oh, because a barrel of oil was spilled’ that you’d take stringent measures immediately. It has to be informed by the findings [of the assessment team] and the applicable laws, as well as the requirements in the permits. So, as part of the investigation and the report, the recommendations will include as to what actions can or will be taken,” Parsram explained.
United States oil giant ExxonMobil had reported that, on September 9, the team on the Liza Unity FPSO observed a sheen on the water in the vicinity of the vessel. “Initial investigations indicate that approximately one barrel of crude oil was released during a maintenance activity on the vessel. The activity was immediately stopped and the leak isolated…additional surveillance by helicopter confirmed that there was no sheen in the area; only a light sheen was perceptible approximately 20km (13 miles) northwest of the vessel. By midday on September 10th, a support vessel in the area confirmed no further sign of a sheen,” the oil major had disclosed.
The EPA, along with other relevant Government agencies, was immediately notified of the incident. At the time, Parsram had explained that the spill was not from the production well itself, but was from an offloading hose on the Unity PFSO that was used to transfer the oil onto a tanker. There has since not been a recurrence of this incident on the Liza Unity, the second FPSO vessel to operate offshore, which only started production in March.
With the exception of flaring activities, there has never been a serious mishap in the oil-rich Stabroek Block since oil production commenced in December 2019.
Nevertheless, Exxon has, throughout the year, been doing training sessions aimed at improving response capabilities. Only last month, a two-day emergency response training exercise was conducted for staff of Exxon’s local subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL). The areas that the training covered included responses to different levels of crisis in EEPGL’s offshore activities, such as oil spills. A final training session is slated for this year-end.
Meanwhile, there is also a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan which was handed over in October 2020 by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) to Prime Minister Brigadier (ret’d) Mark Phillips. The plan was months in the making, and involved the input of many key stakeholders, including the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Guyana Defence Force (GDF), and the Civil Defence Commission (CDC).
The National Emergency Oil Spill Plan was crafted with valuable inputs from the Guyana Marine Conservation Society, Guyana Wildlife Conservation and Management Commission, the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Shipping Association of Guyana, ExxonMobil, Tullow, GuyOil, Repsol, Shell, GAICO Construction, and other stakeholders.
The United States has also been providing tactical and operational support to Guyana when it comes to advancing and fortifying Guyana’s national response to oil spills. In June, the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) provided a recap on the series of training and support provided to 231 persons from over 30 agencies by the United States Coast Guard in building capacity to handle such matters. From June 2021 to April 2022, these efforts have addressed gaps in Guyana’s management of any oil spill.
Exxon is the operator and holds 45 per cent interest in the Stabroek Block, with Hess Guyana Exploration Ltd holding 30 per cent interest, and CNOOC Petroleum Guyana Limited holding the remaining 25 per cent interest.