First steps in oil spill contingency plan tabled

Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman says that by the time oil production starts in two years a National Oil Spill and Contingency Plan (NOSCP) should be established.

Trotman in delivering the feature address at the first Stakeholder Consultation at the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) stated that the plan must not only meet the minimum standard but extend beyond it.

“We do have a risk [and] we recognize that there is a risk. However, Government is making every effort to prepare for that risk, some of which you heard today and some of which you will hear at a later time. This plan is not a plan in its final stage, it is in its formative stage and so we expect in 24 months when we go to production we will meet not only the minimum standard expected, but we will go past that and be able to say to ourselves and to the world that we are ready for any eventuality,” Trotman said.

Trotman explained that even though persons have been “crying” about there being no plan, “there is a plan to have a plan, and so we should not beat ourselves up.” He noted that the next 24 months will be spent developing a plan, which will not be done in isolation from the world or region. Trotman emphasized that they have been working with international stakeholders including the Trinidad and Tobago Government, the United States Coast Guard and others.

Trotman, who delivered the feature address in place of Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, highlighted that the topic of responding to a potential oil spill has been a paramount topic for Guyanese around the country and has been raised several times during his outreaches.

“When one engages Guyanese on the Coast and Hinterland and Interior locations two issues come up at every engagement I had. The first is, what is in it for me – jobs? And the second question is, what happens in the event of an oil spill? If I am in the hinterland the first question is followed by the second, but the two go together and this shows that the topic is important for Guyanese, and so no effort should be spared in ensuring that we are prepared for any eventuality,” he said, while stating that it is important for the matter to be taken seriously.

The Minister of Natural Resources noted that stakeholder involvement at all levels is equally critical to the development of a robust plan that can hold its own internationally and protect the country in the event of an oil spill.

“I am happy to see that the CDC has taken a truly collaborative approach to the development of the plan by involving important stakeholders,” he said.

The CDC will be collaborating with the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). After the plan has been produced it will then be reviewed by Cabinet once all consultations have been completed.

“As you begin your collective deliberations on the form and substance of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, I charge you to see your work here as important and craft a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan that can efficiently and effectively keep our offshore waters free of pollution and our beautiful coastlines pristine for the enjoyment of future generations,” Trotman challenged the group.

He also noted that before one can walk they have to creep and during that process “you bruise your legs and elbows and life is not perfect and sometimes you make mistakes, but they are all part of the journey and while we may be criticized we have to understand that life is a process, and processes take time to develop.”

Presenting the first draft of the NOSCP, Captain John Flores, Director of Maritime Safety, noted that there is a lot more “meat” that has to go into the framework which has been developed by him.

Flores explained that he used various other Contingency Plans from several Caribbean countries and other international countries, along with the International Maritime Organisations’ National Marine Contingency Plan, to create the current framework for the NOSCP.

Flores explained that in addition to Guyana being at risk due to the imminent oil and gas industry, the country also has international obligations due to various conventions, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC), and the Maritime Pollution Convention which mandates the country to have plans in place to respond to oil spills.

Flores said that the third response, and the most important one, is the Nation’s national plan which he said is superior to all other plans.

Flores explained that currently there is only one piece of legislation that caters for oil spills, which is the Environmental Protection Act Cap. 20:05, and while there isn’t a Marine Pollution Act there is a draft, which he noted needs to be in place, so that there can be a legal foundation which the NOSCP can stand on.

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