Opposition Leader urges prioritisation of national oil spill policy

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Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo is urging Government to make issues such as formulating a national oil spill policy a priority, lest Guyana ends up repeating the mistakes of other oil producers.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

With just two years to go before first oil, Jagdeo on Thursday turned on the pressure on this issue.

According to the former President, not treating a national oil spill strategy as a priority is to risk Guyana retrogressing over the next few years.

“I’m saying to you, if we don’t address these critical issues, if we don’t address the rest of the economy, Guyana will be worst off in the next decade than we are now. You read the experience of many of those countries. Check the assessment of Chad and Nigeria and Venezuela and all those places. And just hear where they are today,” Jagdeo urged.

Jagdeo likened the delay in the oil policy to other faux pas’ in the industry; such as the renegotiated Production Sharing Agreement with Exxon’s subsidiary which Government was heavily criticised for.

“This is not unique in the sector, in that all the things our Government was supposed to do to protect us, as a people and our interests, they have failed on. They have failed to negotiate a contract, after we established 3.2 million barrels of oil reserves, a contract that was better than the one given to ExxonMobil when we were trying to get them to explore. They did not. In fact Exxon came out ahead in those negotiations and that’s putting it mildly.”

“They were supposed to get the Sovereign Wealth Fund to protect our interest and they failed on that. They failed on the Petroleum Commission. They failed on local content. It’s the same pattern. They’re failing to address this issue in a manner that this is an environmental issue and the potential to tackle an oil spill.”

According to Jagdeo, Government has instead addressed the issue in a haphazard manner. He noted that Government seemed focused on one thing and that is oil, but he warned against this approach.

It is understood that development of the oil spill plan is being spearheaded by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC).

In March, a stakeholder session was held to gain input for the draft. CDC’s partners in the process include the Guyana Energy Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.

When it comes to deadlines, Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman has said that a national oil spill and contingency plan will be established by 2020.

Even before Jagdeo’s press conference, there have been criticisms about the slow pace of the plan’s development.

To its credit, however, Exxon has organised oil spill management training. This training has including providing information on dispersants, tools used and structure of response strategies among other exercises.

Last year, it was announced that the Audit Office of Guyana (AOG) would commence – a number of environmental audits in 2018. These audits, Auditor General Deodat Sharma had said, would analyse the capacity of the country’s relevant agencies to protect the environment and endangered species of animals in case of a disaster.

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