EPA can adequately respond to environmental disasters – Persaud

The Environmental Protec-tion Agency (EPA) has the manpower and the technical know-how to react to environmental disasters, Natural Resources Minis-ter Robert Persaud has said.

He also said the EPA is always looking at enhancing its capacity in this regard and is closer, now more than ever, to acquiring a full staff complement.

These and several other disclosures were made by the minister and several heads of agencies which fall under the Natural Resources Ministry when they appeared before the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources yesterday.

The minister’s comments on the competence of the EPA to address environmental disasters were in light of the fact that the last few years have seen several companies expressing increased interest in the prospect of drilling Guyana’s offshore basin.

Oil companies currently exploring prospects in Guyana include CGX Energy Inc, Pacific Rubiales, Tullow Oil Ltd, Andarko Guyana Co, Repsol Exploration SA, Ratio Oil Exploration Ltd and Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Ltd.

Persaud said progress with regard to such drilling is being complicated by Venezuela’s intrusions in the Roraima Block. Last year a Venezuelan navy ship intercepted and subsequently took into custody a US ship and its crew as they were conducting surveys ahead of possible drilling in the area. Persaud said negotiations with Venezuela are ongoing and the oil company whose operations are stalled is still being engaged.

It was A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP Rupert Roopnaraine who highlighted the disclosure and noted the accidents which can result from offshore drilling operations. He therefore asked if the EPA is developing or has developed the capacity to cope with the “horror of spills that exploration and exploitation brings.”

Persaud said the EPA has worked along with some of the companies here to build capacity and has even simulated responses to oil spills and the like. The minister said the results of these simulations have satisfied the ministry and the companies involved that the EPA has the capacity to adequately respond.

APNU MP Joseph Harmon was interested in the fees and other deposits required by government before oil companies can set up shop and commence operations.

While Persaud was not able to supply the exact figures he said the companies are required to make security deposits, show that they have immaculate business plans and prove they have the finances to follow through on the proposed investment and other financial obligations.

Harmon was also interested in the non-revenue and job creation returns Guyana receives from companies involved in the extraction of the country’s natural resources. He said government should initiate negotiations with foreign companies in the extractive sector to see that they finance the creation of the technical skills needed for Guyanese to take up places in these sectors. This, he said, ought not to be something that is done “out of the goodness of their hearts” but an obligation.

The minister explained that the establishment of the mining school is the product of such negotiations. The mining school was opened last year and it offers a variety of practical and theoretical instructions in areas related to mining. In addition to providing instructors, foreign companies often make equipment available so students of the school can have hands-on experience. Persaud also said there are cases where companies paid for locals to go overseas to receive specialised training.

He further said that University of Guyana Vice Chancellor (VC) Jacob Opadeyi has been approached on the matter of having UG offer programmes which would produce persons capable of filling positions in the extractive sectors.

Opadeyi has said on several occasion that he will look to ensure that programmes such as those described by the minister are funded by the party that is in need of the skills.

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