News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Weds. Sept. 29, 2021: A news Guyana news report stated recently that: “ExxonMobil’s local subsidiary was Monday added as a defendant in a case brought by two Guyanese who are asking the Guyana High Court to order the closure of that American supermajor’s operations here because of its impact on the environment.”
Dr. Troy Thomas and Mr. Quaddad De Freitas are alleging that that their constitutional rights to a safe and healthy environment have been contravened by the Guyana government’s entering into several petroleum agreements with EEGPL and its parent ExxonMobil Corp, that will produce large quantities of petroleum which when burnt, would create large amounts of greenhouse gases which would in turn, cause climate change making Guyana’s environment unsafe and unhealthy.
I was afraid that the day would come when our government would be on the side of big oil against the people of Guyana. The government had always acted as if it were the PR spokesman and defender of Exxon invoking “sanctity of contract” when they are pushed to renegotiate a bad oil contract signed by the APNU (former government) and kept intact by the PPP/Civic (current government), which had promised to renegotiate the contract during the 2020 election campaign.
That was a “promise made, promise not kept.” On the matter of excessive and ongoing flaring by Exxon, the Government had been soft and very facilitative of the environmental abuses. The EPA gave an Environmental Permit to Exxon for 23 years, when the rules only allow for a 5-year permit. It was the Dr. Troy Thomas/Melinda Janki duo that went to court and overturned that.
The oil operators continued their flaring, blaming it on a faulty gas compressor, and the Government was very understanding and accommodating. The Vice President said, “we believe in a no flaring policy” yet ExxonMobil was reported as flaring natural gas of 15 million standard cubic feet per day for several months. (Will any gas be left for the gas-to-shore project?). The EPA said it’s now 6 million cubic feet per day. It is as if our environmental laws don’t matter and there is no “sanctity of contract” for us regarding the oil operators’ responsibility to follow the agreement concerning reinjection of “produced water,” and flaring only at start up and pilot levels.
If we are producing oil, the bulk of the benefits must be for the people of Guyana, not the oil companies. We cannot allow ourselves to be robbed by the oil companies, and we cannot sit idly by aiding and abetting grave environmental violations. The EPA’s decision that the 12-well exploration campaign on the Kaieteur block project will not significantly affect the environment or human health, and that no Environmental Impact Assessment is needed, is simply ridiculous and outrageous! The government is still unprepared and lacks the capacity to audit oil and monitor operations, we are unsure of insurance coverage for oil spills, there is no transparency and accountability, no local content policy, no updated legislation to allow the use of the Natural Resource Fund – we are starting the oil journey with the “resource curse” syndrome. The government listens to the beat of its own drum, ignoring the stakeholders and the people’s voice.
And the “installed” Opposition PNC is in a deep coma.
President Ali said: “We are a rich country of poor people,” and the VP said at the conference in Texas: “We don’t see ourselves wealthy as yet, oil revenue, the magnitude that would see major flows to Guyana is not coming for the next few years.”
According to VP Bharat Jagdeo: “US$300M/ US$400M a year now is not a lot of money, and many people think, oh the wealth will come tomorrow or, it’s here today and suddenly have to start splurging.” The vice president, as such was adamant, “we have to live within our means for quite a while into the future.” In the meanwhile, Exxon and shareholders are dancing all the way to the bank!
Will the Guyana government use this lawsuit as leverage to renegotiate a new agreement with the oil companies, so we can all be rich and meet the long list of national needs?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jerry Jailall is an Education Consultant at the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), North Carolina, USA. He has served in education for 25+ years at the elementary-, middle-, high-, and university levels in Guyana, the Bahamas, the USA and the United Arab Emirates. Dr. Jailall holds five degrees and several certifications in education, has written chapters in books and journal articles, and is Co-author of a Corwin Press bestseller, The Principal as Curriculum Leader: Shaping What is Taught and Tested.