This column turns attention to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Liza Phase 1 Develop-ment Project done by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) an external consultancy firm which describes itself as is a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, social consulting services and sustainability related services. Volume 1 of the Assessment runs to approximately 450 pages of which 100 pages make up Chapter 6 which includes a rather expansive description of non-environment related information about Guyana’s ground transportation infrastructure, the country’s Administrative Divisions, the ethnic composition of the population, the education system, the economy etc.
The consultants claim that they did not encounter any specific difficulties in preparing the EIA and that the information provided on the project and the resources found in the project development area were adequate for them to prepare a robust impact assessment.
It is with more than passing interest that ERM disclosed that the Petroleum Agreement was confidential!
Civil society missing in action
Another interesting bit of information is contained in Table 1 – 2 of the Report EIA Review Checklist “Road-map” which at 1. Adherence to the ToR in which it is stated that “Adherence to the ToR must be verified simply by checking that all items and information requested in the ToR have been presented, regardless of the content or quality of such information.”
I have no expertise or competence in evaluating such a formidable document as the EIA in which there may have been some level of consultation involving a total of across the Regions and in Georgetown. Strangely however, the consultants chose not to use specific questionnaires which would be expected in a document of this importance, size and complexity. It is a sad commentary on civil society that no such group took the trouble to review and comment on the Report, identifying any observed weaknesses.
My information is that two groups of environmentalists did a critique of an earlier version of the EIA and that they had grave reservations on the document at that state. Unfortunately, the groups have not been identified and their critique has not been publicised. What a shame!
The Report concludes that planned events of the Project will have “minor impacts on physical resources (i.e., air quality, marine sediments, water quality), no impacts on coastal biological resources, minor impacts on marine biological resources, little, if any, noticeable negative impact on communities, and largely positive impacts on socioeconomics.”
Unplanned events, such as a potential oil spill, are considered unlikely to occur because of the extensive preventative measures employed by EEPGL. When factors such as the location of the wells, prevailing northwest currents, the light nature of the crude oil to be extracted, and the region’s warm waters, it is projected that the probability of oil reaching Guyana coast is no more than 5 to 10 percent, without taking into consideration the effectiveness of any oil spill response. The planned Project would not cause irreversible damage to any onshore areas of Guyana.
Ironically, that is much lower than the probability of oil reaching either Guyana or Venezuela. The report indicates that the probability of shoreline oiling is high for the coast of Venezuela because of the predominant westerly current flow through the Stabroek block.
Fossil fuel and the green economy
So should Guyanese relax, put their faith in EEPGL and its partners and share the optimism of ERM? That might not be such a good idea. For example, Production is projected to discharge 9,000 barrels per day or 378,000 gallons per day of Domestic and sanitary Wastewater containing chlorine and bacteria. There will be some 1,100,000 barrels (46.2 million gallons) of ballast water during each loading, an incredible 4,000 barrels (168,000 gallons) of Black Water (sewage) per day and hazardous wastes of 4,050 metric tonnes in 2019 and 5,470 metric tonnes in 2020.
It is particularly difficult to understand the source of all this sewage and even more difficult to appreciate how marine sediments, water quality, mammals, turtles, fish, flora and fauna and seabirds will benefit even from the best treated sewage!
Oil exploration will also result in significant emissions of Greenhouse Gases, Carbon Monoxide, Sulfur Dioxide, and Nitrogen Oxides, all of which have adverse consequences for individuals and the environment. Oil and the Green Economy do not make good bedfellows.
This EIA is only as good as the quality of research and baseline information available, the robust examination of the Plan by equally competent officials, and strict enforcement. In this regard, taking account of the quality of oversight, overwhelming confusion and failure to accept that the oil companies and the Government have competing interest, the administrators of the sector will have to up their game sharply.
That is a big ask.