Petroleum Amendment Bill passed after fiery debates
…as APNU/AFC withholds support from transformative projects
A proposed amendment to the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act, to give the Government more oversight over how licensees in the oil and gas sector utilise the lands they have been allocated, has been passed in the National Assembly.
The bill was presented by Natural Resources Minister Vickram Bharrat, who noted the importance of the legislative amendment in giving the Government greater ability to protect the citizens.
“In simple terms, this act is basically giving oversight to the Government in the acquisition of private land to facilitate the laying of the pipeline to realisation of the power-generation plant. Previously, the licensee could act upon themselves.
However, we see it fit that we play a role, so we could protect the rights of our citizens and private land owners, so we can ensure they are fully compensated, so as to facilitate this project,” Bharrat said.
The main Opposition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) was, however, not enamoured with the bill. Several of their Members of Parliament (MPs) also attacked the projects that would be facilitated by the bill, with former Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson railing against the US$900 million gas-to-shore project.
“The US$900 million is a burden on the Guyanese public. No one has spoken of the cost of the generators, or how they will get power across the river… This amendment, as innocuous as it seems, has serious implications going forward,” Patterson said.
His successor, Public Works Minister Juan Edghill, drew parallels between the coalition’s non-support of the gas-to-shore project and another potentially transformative project that they had opposed, the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (AFHP).
“I was a part of the 10th Parliament when the 165-Megawatt AFHP did not receive the National Assembly’s support because the then APNU-AFC combined failed to support a clause that will pave the way for Guyana to have its dream realised,” he said.
“I remember, during that debate, members of the governing side, even with a one-seat majority, indicated that cheap, reliable and renewable electricity is a dream dating way back to the years of then President Burnham. And even though those arguments were made… they turned around and killed it,” Edghill said.
The bill, which was subsequently passed, is seeking to amend Section 52 of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act, Chapter 65:04, which deals with the restrictions in place on petroleum licensees. It specifically targets work done by a petroleum licensee in furtherance of its operations on State land, Government land, or land that is otherwise controlled or under the management of the Government of Guyana.
Based on the amendment, the Minister would have the power to grant permission to the licensee to land, install or operate any pipeline, fibre optic cable or similar infrastructure on or through the said land.
It would also empower the Minister to order the licensee to maintain, inspect, repair or renew such infrastructure.
The amendments also speak to the granting of consent to the Minister and a petroleum licensee for use of land by the private owners or lawful occupiers of said land in aid of petroleum operations.
It was only a few days ago that the Government issued an order to compulsorily acquire land that would be used to build the US$900 million gas-to-shore project and lay the gas pipeline from Nouvelle Flanders on the West Coast of Demerara (WCD) to Canal Number One Public Road on the West Bank thereof.
The gazetted order which was made under the hand of Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill on August 6 is in keeping with the Acquisition of Lands for Public Purposes Act (Chapter 62:05). In the first instance, it describes the proposed gas pipeline route as public work.
The order also authorises the Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) to inspect the land together with his agents or workmen for the purposes of surveying the land.
“Overall, the amendment of Section 52 ensures that the Government has oversight over the exercise of the licensee’s rights over private land. Accordingly, the amendment further strengthens and protects private proprietary interests as enshrined in Article 142 of the Constitution of Guyana.”
The amendment comes ahead of several oil-based projects coming on stream, including Exxon’s US$900 million gas-to-shore project. The gas-to-shore project is a game-changing initiative that would see gas from the Liza Field offshore Guyana being pumped onshore to generate power.
The main objective of the initiative is to transport sufficient gas from the Stabroek Block’s petroleum operations to supply some 200-250 megawatts of energy to the national grid, leading to a significant reduction in electricity costs.