The feasibility of offshore exploration in Belize is a widely debated topic that has given rise to many environmental and conservation groups actively opposing offshore drilling. The impassioned move of the anti drilling campaign and Government’s will to drill has resulted in tense negotiations over the years, which forced the involvement of the Supreme Court in 2013, when the judge struck down off shore drilling contracts previously issued by the Government.
It is 2015 now and consultations on offshore drilling between government and NGOs continue.
As early as this week, a draft for petroleum zones and guidelines for exploration was being circulated within the various NGO’s as part of the ongoing consultations. However, Oceana took issue with this draft saying it illustrates the same position the Government took in 2011.
According to Vice President for Oceana Belize, Janelle Chanona, “Nothing has changed!”.
Janelle Chanona – Vice-President of Oceana Belize
“Since 2011 we have been talking about this. We’ve made recommendations. Studies have been presented. Economic analyses have been presented, and yet the Government has not amended or adjusted its position. More worryingly, the Government’s position is being based on, what we are only left to assume is, antiquated data, unreferenced national numbers, and with little responsibility to safeguard the thousands, tens of thousands of jobs, that depend on this marine environment.
Within that context, we are just surprised that here’s the Government saying it wants to have meaningful consultation and participation, and yet even after we’ve been talking about this for so long, they’re still coming back with the same old position, which is that the entire offshore area of Belize is on the chopping-block.”
The Government, in response to the NGOs clamors, reiterated that the 32 page document is simply a draft. Oceana Belize sent a 175 page document detailing “inevitable” risks of Offshore exploration, but it was not considered in this 2014-2015 draft, according to Janelle Chanona.
“There is no specific reference to the significant risks that will be part of this whole discussion. It’s not there.
There is no mention of capacity for emergency response. There is no reference to consultation with the countries, only oil producing company. It said it consulted with a petroleum company. It wasn’t BNE, because according to Government’s Press Release yesterday. it was Miranco and US Capital that they consulted with.
How can we reasonably begin a conversation about compromising all these jobs, all these economic benefits that the reef guarantees us, for the mere potential of all these unknowns, and we’re not even factoring in all these essential elements that go along with this inheritant and dirty and dangerous industry.”
The draft was first sent in September 2014 to only a few stakeholders for feedback. On Monday, it was re sent to other NGO’s and stakeholders as a means of getting a “wider feedback”.
Oceana Belize, the Belize Audubon Society, the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage and a few other stake holders were not a part of that first list of recipients. This of course hit a sour note with Oceana Belize, which has been at the forefront of the anti offshore drilling campaign.
“Certainly that was one of the reasons why we put out that Press Release on Tuesday, in response to what we received on Monday. Has Oceana been provided with that document in September, we probably would have been doing this interview last year.
Certainly this document contains enough concerns for us to be, what do they call us, ‘sensationalists’ about this and ‘radical.’ Yes, we have to be, because this is about our collective future.”
All stake holders are expected to reply with their feedback on the draft document no later than February 2nd.
According to a press release issued on Wednesday, The Geology and Petroleum Department will be hosting consultation workshops with stakeholders, to fully discuss the proposed zonation plan and exploration guidelines. No date has been set.