EPA faces challenges in setting up unit to monitor oil and gas sector

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Despite Guyana already into oil production, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still working to build a specialised unit to monitor the local petroleum sector.

However, the agency is facing many challenges in achieving this goal.

Among some of the issues the EPA is facing are the lack of funding and resources, including human capital.

This is according to the agency’s Executive Director, Dr Vincent Adams, on Wednesday. He was the guest speaker at the annual business luncheon organised by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) at the Pegasus Hotel.

Wednesday’s event was held under the theme “Environmental protection imperatives for oil & gas and beyond”.

According to Dr Adams, they are hoping to get the 36-member unit in place by the end of this year to streamline its monitoring duties of the oil and gas sector.

He believes that this unit must have more qualified people than oil companies.

“To me, the Government must always have better-qualified people than the other side or else, you lose your bargaining power. They’re not gonna respect you, they will want to overshadow you and you will feel so diminished. You will be afraid and embarrassed to even ask a question when you’re in doubt. You just gonna go along with what everybody says,” he posited.

But the EPA Head noted that achieving this is proving to be a challenge.

“[I’m hoping] to set up the petroleum unit comprising of 36 people which are highly-skilled people, and we have set up two expressions of interests and have not gotten anybody from within Guyana who meets the qualifications. So we might have to go abroad and when you start going abroad, the costs go up but I think as long as you get the right people, the cost will be well worth it,” he stated.

Although the EPA’s work is rooted in science and engineering, Dr Adams recalled that when he took over the agency in October 2018, there were no engineers and only a few chemistry majors. Since then, he has been working to build a full complement of staff.

In fact, he noted that in 2019, they hired an additional 25 persons and by the end of this year, they are looking to double the staff complement; then triple it the following year.

But in efforts to beef up his staff, he recognises that it is a young batch and as such, is looking to bring in now retired specialists to mentor his current team and strengthen their abilities.

Additionally, Dr Adams noted that the agency has been training staff and sending them overseas to international conferences so they can have exposure as well as network with stakeholders.

As part of its capacity-building efforts, the EPA Director revealed that they are currently working on a recruitment programme right now – a study-leave policy, where they will be sponsoring staff on a contractual basis to go to university, here and abroad, to specialise in areas to meet the needs of the EPA.

Moreover, he noted that they have an internship programme this year for at least 10 students. This stint will allow the agency to look at all of the students and how they work, and recognise which of them they want to stay on and work in the agency instead of just going out there and hiring people blindly.

Added to its staffing woes, a lack of resources is hindering the EPA to effectively carry out its mandate such as conducting unexpected inspections at sites especially at offshore operations.

“We have to have unfettered access to every single facility. I know we do not have the means right now or capabilities, we still have to depend on the contractors to take us out to those ships. But that’s our goal, we have to have unfettered access to any site on land or any ship at sea at any time… [At my previous job in the United States] we used to have people onsite all the time and we used to find over 90 per cent of the precursors to these incidents so that’s why I’m a firm believer in having our staff out there,” Dr Adams stressed.

He went on to add too that the EPA is also looking to have a new head office as well as establishing its own laboratory. However, he noted that all of the agency’s plans are on hold given that there was no budget for this year. He noted that the one-twelfth budget provisions would be insufficient.

In fact, Dr Adams pointed out that the agency has been basically operating on monies that it had retrieved from persons who were in arrears for their permits. But even that $140 million, he explained, is becoming inadequate since the EPA’s activities have significantly increased over the years with more permits being applied for and, thus, more inspections needed.