Wednesday’s decision by the Government of Belize to no longer pursue an appeal of the decision by former Supreme Court Justice Oswell Legall in April of 2011 to make null and void six challenged Production Sharing Agreements (PSA’s) given to various companies because no environmental impact assessment was carried out before making the agreements and the agreements were entered into with companies who did not demonstrate appropriate capabilities left the entire budding petroleum industry in Belize in apparent limbo. Justice Legall also ordered an injunction restraining the government from carrying out the provisions of the challenged PSAs, since stayed and now expected to go back into effect. But with the current Government on record as completely supporting drilling for petroleum both in marine and terrestrial areas, even in protected areas, will the judgment stand the test of time? OCEANA Vice President Janelle Chanona believes so. She told us more in an interview in Belize City today.
Janelle Chanona – VP, OCEANA Belize
“A lot of things can change but If there’s a policy in place, that gives some comfort in knowing that there is a law in place, that there are conditions that have to be met, that there are procedures that have to be followed for any changes. As opposed to somebody waking up and having a different feeling that day. Certainly that is why a legal formalized document, a clear position I think is what Belizeans deserve. This is their public resources, this is something that so many of us depend on every day for our livelihoods and as a country we depend on as a key economic driver through tourism and fishing. so at the very least, yes this deserves a clear policy and we’ve been invited by the PM to submit language to that effect and we’re going to get that to him as soon as possible.”
According to Chanona, the now-affirmed ruling was comprehensive as to what should have been done with the agreements, several of which were signed under an administration prior to the current one.
“The ruling Justice Legall made and the declarations that followed were specific that certain procedures had not been done, EIAs had not been conducted, that procedures had not been followed before these licenses were given out. That is a technicality but certainly it comes back to the fact that in the end these resources are so important. We need to make sure that every I is dotted, every T is crossed because they are no do-over when it comes to the environment and there is no getting around the fact that when it comes to offshore oil, it is inherently hazardous and it is enviable that you will have repercussions. It is about just making sure that the importance of following all the regulations we have in place, looking at new conditions; has to be laid out and agreed upon. “
President of Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), who was a party to the case, Geovannie Brackett, hailed the decision as a vindication of the national support for the anti-offshore drilling initiative. But he says much more needs to be done to organize the chase for “black gold” in Belize, including regulation of the oil prospectors.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. I think part of the ruling, I think that affirms what we initially wrote in our very first press release when COLA sent it out in 2010, which stated that these companies are more than just fly by night companies. these are just people in our opinion, who put together a company and then not even proper bidding, in our view, was just attempting to get a whole of a PSA and trying to get it market it to try to get some money. That is not how it is done in countries such as the UK and US. You have to have a company that has actually been involved in oil and before you can bid, you would be investigated to see if you have the wear it all to actually execute such a venture. When you have countries who are coming in and bulldozing our land, you have seen what US Capital has done in the south. They have actually damage those people’s forest and now they are out. When you have proper companies coming in with the proper standards, and when I say standards, it is not what the geology and petroleum are telling you in that they hope the companies are geared towards international standards. What is international standards? Are you talking API, are you talking European standards? Those are the things that need to be fleshed out.”
The third party to the case was the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage. Most of the PSA’s have expired with the last one up later this year. Brackett also called for the re-organization of the Geology and Petroleum Department into a more toothed organization, separated into terrestrial and marine departments.