Government, Exxon should be commended on public hearing in Leonora

Dear Editor,

As carried in your paper, ExxonMobil and the government have faced a slew of criticisms in recent months over royalties, secrecy, revenue sharing, incentives or bonuses, the inadequacies of the oil contract, etc.  But I would like to applaud the government environmental agency (in the President’s office), the Environment Minister, private environmental partners (NGOs) and Exxon for the public hearing (consultation) on the impact of Liza II oil recovery held on the afternoon of January 26 in Leonora Institute on the West Coast. The fact that the government agency held a public hearing suggests it has no secrets to hide and that it has learned from errors. It now seeks to consult the public on oil explorations. The government and Exxon should be commended on this action – keeping in mind that the law requires the government agency to hold public consultations before making or implementing decisions that will affect the general public.

The hearing was informational and consultative. It gave an opportunity for people to voice their concerns. Whether the environmental body or the government or Exxon or the consultants will address these concerns is an altogether different matter.

I attended the public hearing that was welcomed by the greater community and the NGOs that were present. The public hearing provided an opportunity for people to share their concerns and for the government as well as Exxon to hear the public’s points of view and address them when it continues drilling.  Many spoke about their concerns and they freely voiced critiques of the government and Exxon’s behaviour, including making reference to the government’s handling of the US$18M bonus. It was described as chicken feed. Participants were not overwhelmingly in favour of further extraction of oil from the Liza wells.

People attended the public hearing from as far away as Wales and Parika, with a few even trekking from Georgetown, and concerns were expressed about oil exploration on the economies and people of the islands in Essequibo. Public consultation and input is always good. It gives the people an opportunity to participate by offering their opinion in a venture. And oil exploration or drilling is such a risky venture,  that could lead to oil spills which would forever taint the environment, coastline, all living matter in it, people’s lifestyle, health, and their economic survival.

It was a unique opportunity to voice comments and concerns about the drilling and oil recovery process as well as to seek information and even to state why the process The speakers shared information about drilling, and the public sought information, though not much was given. The hearing was only to seek people’s concerns and for the government to take these issues into consideration before granting the permit for further drilling. The purpose of meeting was not to discuss issues or to make decisions but to hear the views of the public on the contentious matter.  One person expressed the view that the oil and gas should remain where they are since Guyanese would not benefit much from them. Some others disagreed. It should be noted that Exxon expects to extract all of the oil in about 20 years totalling over 3.2 billion barrels.

I commend Exxon’s Doug McGee who gave a clear, concise description of the drilling process, the risks involved, and safety precautions. In response to my question about the kind of oil discovered, he stated it is light crude which is a highly prized petroleum and which fetches high dollars per barrel as opposed to heavy crude. The problem, however, in an accident, is that light crude moves faster in water and to the coast and the soil, inflicting great environmental damage. In drilling, every safeguard must be taken to prevent spillage or accidents. We cannot afford to damage our pristine coastline and marine and plant habitat.

And all should be given an opportunity to voice their opinion on oil drilling off the coast of Guyana. A similar hearing should be held in the islands, in Georgetown, East Coast, West Berbice, New Amsterdam, Corentyne, etc.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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