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Oil on Ambergris Caye Since 1950’s

Fifty years ago there were rumors going around San Pedro that there was oil on the island. As children I remember playing in the lagoon and suddenly a bubble of air would appear from the bottom of the lagoon and rise to the surface. When this bubble got to the surface of the water, it would burst and a colorful oily residue would spread on the surface of the water, somewhat like when you spill some oil on the sea.

Our parents used to say that there was oil way down there in the earth and some of it was seeping until it got to the crust of the earth. We used to accept this as true, but never questioned whether this oil was usable, precious or worth any money. It was simply a comment and that was it.

Then when we were children in the 1950’s we heard that some foreigners with heavy equipment like bulldozers were digging for oil on the island in the Basil Jones area or all the way on the northern of the island. We heard that they were looking for oil and that they were drilling into the earth and expecting a sudden burst of black oil into the air.

We heard that one of their oil rigs or bulldozers had sunk into a “cenote” or water hole and disappeared and that it cost the company a lot of money. Then we heard that there was an airstrip where these rich oil explorers used to land in their little plane.

All of this we used to hear from the older folks and when we took a break to go into the jungle, we could confirm that all was true as we noticed the water hole where the bulldozer had disappeared and there were steel cables there.

We also used to notice lots of pieces of equipment and pieces of steel pipes stuck into the ground. These we were told were the pipes where the oil was supposed to flow from hundreds of feet under the ground. Then we also noticed many trails or small roads where the rich oil explorers would travel with vehicles or motorcycles. These vehicles never left the Basil Jones area. They never came to the village, so we never, ever saw them.

As children we used to listen to stories about oil with awe and admiration. We were told that if ever there was oil, then fishermen would stop working hard and quit being poor fishermen and become rich with oil.

I now wonder if that was going to be so. I wonder if we would like to find oil on the island and change from tourism to the oil industry. Probably no, right? It would totally change the face of the island, right? I know some of us would die if one day we wake up and notice huge chimneys in the sky blowing smoke along the western sky. Then we would no longer see those happy and inquiring faces of our beloved tourists visiting our island. Oh, how nice it is today as it was 25 years ago.

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