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June 10 ,2021

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Over one hundred persons from a broad swathe of society have sent a detailed  submission to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a number of questions they want answered in the impact assessment to be done for ExxonMobil’s fourth proposed oil well here – Yellowtail.

Among the questions they want answered in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is if the US oil major will be held to the same standards of its home country and how the company intends to comply.

“The questions in the public submission cover climate impact, harm to the ocean, the danger of a well blowout, flaring, noise, discharges into the ocean, and whether Esso has the financial resources to carry out Yellowtail and safely decommission the wells when production stops,” a release from the environmental group A Fair Deal for Guyana A Fair Deal for the Planet states.

The submission refers to one study which puts the social cost of carbon at US$418 per ton, significantly higher than the US$30 recently set by the EPA for Esso’s flaring of gas from the Liza-1 well.

The signatories to the compiled questions include university lecturers and students, conservation groups, religious persons, business people, professionals, civil society activists, and organisations that represent people and communities across Guyana, according to the release. 

Pointing out that under the Environmental Protection Act the EPA is legally required to take this public submission into account when setting the terms of reference for the project’s EIA, the group said that it hopes the company complies.

Fred Collins, the president of Transparency Institute Guyana Inc., and one of those who co-signed stressed that transparency underpins good governance, according to the release and is quoted as underscoring this point. “We know how important it is for the public to question, to demand information and to hold government and regulators to account.  Secrecy is the enemy of democracy,” he said.

Another signatory, attorney-at-Law Melinda Janki referred to the laws of this country and its provision for national participation on matters of the environment. She said, “Article 23 of the Constitution says that every citizen has a duty to participate in activities designed to improve the environment and protect the health of the nature. This is a good first step – to get the facts so people can make informed and educated decisions. This public submission to the EPA on Yellowtail is breathing life into the Constitution.”

The Environmental Protection Act Cap20:05 provides the public with a legal right to say what questions and matters they wish to have answered or addressed in the environmental impact assessment.

According to Janki who drafted the environmental impact assessment provisions 25 years ago, “The integrity of the EIA process depends on people being willing to look at what is proposed and ask questions. It’s not a top down exercise. It’s supposed to be a fully participatory process with the public scrutinising what is going on and holding the EPA and private sector to account.”

Support for the demands, the release says, has come from the Rupununi to the coastlands.

For University of Guyana Lecturer Charlene Wilkinson, “Guyanese, more than ever before, must put aside the partisanship of political allegiances and cling to the deep truths of their ancestors. They will discover that all our ancestors had similar values. And the supreme value was the preservation of the environment.”

Her University of Guyana colleague, lecturer Sinikka Henry, notes that no amount of money, however, can really compensate us for the loss of a healthy environment and harm to biodiversity, losses that the “people of Guyana will have to bear.”

The submission notes that the BP Macondo well blowout devastated the Gulf of Mexico and cost BP US468bn. Noting that a well blowout in Guyana’s waters could have a catastrophic impact on the Caribbean economies and environment, the submission asks questions about ExxonMobil’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited’s ability to prevent and mitigate a blowout. It also asks whether Esso will pay compensation to Caribbean countries for damage to their tourism and fishing sectors in the event of a well blowout.

Student Finella Martin, who the release points out helped to garner support for the submission, emphasized her concern for the environment as she pointed to global warming.

“We are running out of time; we need to be more aware and educated on the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from offshore drilling not just in Guyana but globally. Climate Change is no longer an assumption but our reality. We are seeing one of the worst flooding in history. I am proud that Guyana has strong environmental laws that empower us, the citizens, to stop the causes of climate change and not only preserve our beloved country but also our world,” she is quoted as saying.

The EPA last month announced that Esso had applied for an Environmental Authorization to undertake the Yellowtail Development Project.

According to its project summary, the site will be located in the eastern portion of the Stabroek Block, 200 km from Georgetown. Oil production from the Yellowtail Development Project is expected to last at least 20 years, with approximately 45-55 wells to be drilled offshore to support extraction.

The summary, which can be found both on the EPA’s and the company’s website and Facebook page, states that the proposed project will develop the Yellowtail and Redtail fields, and other resources if such is determined to be feasible and competitive. It was stated that Yellowtail will be designed to add up to 250,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) to existing daily production volumes in Guyana.

The EPA said that it had determined that an EIA will have to be conducted before a decision to approve or reject the proposed project is made as it may significantly impact the environment.

As such, members of the public were invited to make written submissions to the Agency outlining questions and matters which they need to be answered or considered in the EIA. The public was given 28 days to send in those concerns and that period ended on June 5th.

After receipt of submissions, the EPA will select the entity to undertake the EIA and the public consultations are intended to help shape the areas of investigation.  Even without public input the EIA is expected to address vexing issues such as gas flaring, treatment of sea water used in oil extraction, safeguards from spillage and the impact on biodiversity and marine life. These issues have not been comprehensively addressed in earlier EIAs for Liza-1, Liza-2 and Payara though the latter did contain enhancements in the Environmental Permit that was eventually issued.

Public scoping sessions were held virtually and were poorly attended and the lone in-person public meeting saw an even worse turnout.

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