EPA investigating unidentified substance on water offshore Guyana

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched an investigation into reports of an unidentified substance surfacing offshore Guyana, using satellite imagery to pin down the location following the publication of footage.

In an interview with this publication, EPA Executive Director Kemraj Parsaram explained that the Agency sprang into action as soon as it saw the reports. But despite sea and aerial searches aided by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) led oil spill committee, they have so far been unable to locate anything.

“When we saw the report, we immediately engaged the national oil spill committee, which is led by the CDC and other agencies. And we organised a fishing vessel from Mahaica, because it was reported that the video was taken about 45 miles northeast of the Mahaica Mahaicony area. We didn’t get the specific location. We had to determine the best location based on that. So, we organised a vessel, but they could not get as far as that,” Parsaram explained.

However, he assured that aerial surveillance was also done on Sunday midday and the area was scanned. Despite this, a search for the substance came up empty. Nevertheless, Parsaram noted that satellite imagery is being used to aid the search. He also appealed to fishermen who may have encountered the substance and even taken samples, to come forward.

“We scanned the area about 45 miles north east of Alness village, Corentyne. All the way to the Demerara River. Including the fishing zone. And we didn’t see anything. So, our only choice now is to heavily depend on satellite imagery over the past couple days, around the area of the operators to see if anything came from them.”

“Or possibly if any of the cargo vessels in the area dumped any bilge or anything like that. I am pleading to the fishermen who reported it, to if they took any samples or they know the exact location they could take us, we’re on standby to do that,” Parsaram further said.

Earlier this year, the CDC had operationalised the National Oil Spill Response Plan (NOSRP) and the National Oil Spill Committee, in mobilising contingency plans and policy direction dealing with the management of national oil spill events.

The National Oil Spill Response Plan was drafted in 2018 by the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD). Additionally, it was strengthened by a working group which was led by the CDC.

Last October, it was handed over to Government and the final plan was developed from comprehensive consultations, reviews, testing and support from national stakeholders.

International partners such as the United States Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organisation also played important roles.

The unidentified substance also comes at a time when insurance to protect against oil spills is also a topical issue. EPA itself is currently conducting a comprehensive review of insurance coverage, or lack thereof, for existing oil and gas projects currently being carried out offshore Guyana.

A prevailing concern during ExxonMobil’s scoping meetings has also been what would happen in the event of an oil spill. The oil company recently addressed those concerns, saying they are willing to step up to the plate and meet the financial cost in that event.

During a recent public disclosure meeting on the Yellowtail project, discussions were centred on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project.

EEPGL Project Manager Steve Laws had acknowledged the concerns Guyanese have about oil spills, in particular the financial repercussions on the country. He assured, however, that Exxon would take care of this fiduciary responsibility.