With the discovery of oil safeguards should be put in place to protect the environment

Dear Editor,

President Donald Ramotar last week visited two offshore oil rigs, Repsol and CGX to “get a feel” for their oil drilling operations. According to the GC the President was reportedly “struck by the isolation and the environment in which the workers carried out their duties.”

Critically important to the discovery of oil in Guyana is the high-powered oversight to ensure that adequate legal safeguards have been negotiated and are in place so the environment is safeguarded and protected. No such oversight institution for oil currently exists. Any oil spill like that of British Petroleum in Florida and the Exxon Valdez in Alaska would completely ruin Guyana’s ecosystem. Our fishermen, farmers and coastal dwellers who depend on the oceans for economic survival and Hindus for religious practices would be seriously compromised.   Guyanese welfare must not be an afterthought. All Guyanese culture, economics and health would be irreparably damaged. Preplanning must also take into account the likelihood of substantive gas deposits being discovered. The Guyana Government therefore urgently needs to establish a Guyana Energy & Oil Authority (GEOA) to oversee all the ramifications – legal, environmental, revenue oversight,  labour facilities, workers rights, housing, recreation, health, etc, and of course encourage and monitor  the ‘do good‘ community give-back of the oil companies in Guyana. The replacement of current rigs must be addressed since they are not built to adequately service workers on a 24/7 basis.

When thousands of barrels are likely to be produced daily, two or three (GEOA) highly talented officials must be posted on board the rigs to ensure that the amount of barrels declared by the oil and gas companies is what is actually produced, similar to the non-company guardian at the GuySuCo cane weighing scales. The GEOA must have its liaison on all rigs at all times. Establishing two electronic counters, ie, “one fuh dem and one fuh we” to double check for production accuracy is not a bad idea.  Of course the human and ‘electronic‘ counters must have frequent and impromptu inspections with the former being rotated or moved around to other sites so that they do not fall victim to bribery and corruption. Our experiences with rigging must always keep us on guard.

What is more reassuring for Guyana striking oil is the bonanza last week of nearby Trinidad’s massive 48 billion barrel discovery. The Trinidad Guardian on April 1 reported “that the find was located four miles off the west coast of Trinidad in 60 feet of water. It is an area known as Cluster Six in the state-owned  Petrotrin’s Trinimar Gulf of Paria acreage. The find is at a depth of 4,000-5,000 feet and is close to established offshore infrastructure. The oil discovery was both light crude – a more marketable type – and heavy crude.” Coming so soon after oil was found last year offshore French Guiana it gave Guyana much hope for great optimism. Trinidad can be of much help in all Guyana’s oil and gas ventures.

Repsol which began Guyana operations on December 5, 2011  at  the Jaguar-1 operations claim they spent some $52 million (of a $180 million budget) while CGX which began drilling in February 2012  is drilling at the same location on the Courentyne River from which it was evicted some 12 years ago by Suriname. They have reportedly spent some $55 million so far.

Trinidad’s 48 billion barrels potential is contrary to the GC’s citing of “the US Geological Survey [which] ranked Guyana as having the second most attractive under-explored oil basin in the world with a possibility of 15.2 billion barrels of oil.”  With no authentic estimate as to what is actually below the ground there may be fewer deposits, but it could also mean that Guyana potentially has considerably more oil and gas since it is virgin territory. In which case the oil companies will get a huge financial windfall which dwarfs their initial investments.

Now more than ever the Ramotar PPP/C government needs to publicly reveal and clarify what are the terms of the agreement between them and the oil companies.  In the meantime the PPP/C urgently needs to institute a more proactive monitoring of Guyana’s oil and gas resources.

None can be impressed after the recent mess which witnessed Norway’s circuitous funnelling of the forest protection funds to the World Bank. This should never have occurred if adequate legal oversight was done in the first place. An oversight body such as the Guyana Oil Authority (GEOA) should have all the legal, geological, environmental, cultural awareness, compassionate and professionally skilled staff to safeguard and protect Guyana’s oil resources.

Its leadership must be incorruptible and of the highest calibre and be held accountable in parliament or in camera as required.
Former Speaker Mr Ralph Ramkarran is an excellent candidate to head the GEOA. His non hesitation to recommend the termination of the Guyana Airways Corporation when it was haemorrhaging money speaks well of decisiveness.

With his legal experience, acknowledged incorruptible history of looking out for  the disadvantaged  he is now in the exemplary tradition of looking out for Guyana. Our oil and gas resources cannot be left to chance but must be protected by the best, experienced and only those who will not fall to corruption but keep Guyana safe and protected.

Yours faithfully,
Sultan Mohamed

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