– Press Release, Oceana, Belize – “This is a present day disaster that should never happen in Belize.” April 20, 2013 marked three years since the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster caused by British Petroleum(BP) in the Gulf of Mexico in which 11 workers died. This tragic event played out just at the time the Belizean public became aware that since 2007 100% of Belize waters were leased out to oil companies, through contracts signed unknown to the Belizean public.
British Petroleum is one of the leading international oil companies with the latest offshore technology yet they could not prevent this disaster that occurred while only doing exploratory work not commercial extraction. In 2010 was one of approximately 200 deep water offshore rigs capable of drilling in waters more than 5,000 ft (1,500 m). In Belize the offshore areas issued out under the now unlawful contracts were in areas as deep at 12,000 ft and given out to companies which do not even have half the capabilities and expertise as BP.
“As we mark this sullen day in the history of oil disasters, it is ideal for Belize to reflect on the magnitude of what happened there and how at all costs we in Belize must ensure that this never happens here, thus Justice Oswell Legall’s ruling on Belize offshore contracts is one way to put a halt on this potential catastrophic decision for the world’s largest living barrier reef,” said Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President of Oceana in Belize.
Oceana in Belize publicly calls on the Government of Belize not to ignore the lessons to be learnt from our neighbors in the north. On Jan 6, 2011 Hon. Prime Minister Dean O. Barrow in a public statement said:
“My position in terms of offshore drilling remains the same and that is that there is no position currently. We are looking at all that you people say, all that the advocates against offshore drilling, all that those advocates say, we are looking what is being given to us by our own experts and that the appropriate time a decision will have to be made. I am telling you that we are not going to lightly ignore written contracts, this is not a Michael Aschroft type scenario, these are legitimate contracts, not outlaw agreements and we simply can’t walk away from those agreements.”
Since this statement the Government’s position has been that there will be on and offshore oil drilling and has embarked on a zonation plan, which in its draft form already is over all marine protected areas in Belize. (See map below)
However, these very contracts that the Prime Minister called “legitimate contracts, not outlaw agreements” have been declared by the Supreme Court of Belize as “unlawful, null and void.”
Oceana calls on the Government to reconsider its position on offshore oil drilling and to view the decision by the Supreme Court as an opportunity to step back and reconsider the oil policy they inherited from the previous administration and which they have been implementing. Oceana sees this as an ideal time to get rid of all these violating contracts, return to the people to get a mandate on offshore oil drilling before re-issuing any offshore oil contracts.
In the meantime no new contracts authorizing oil exploration and seismic surveys can be issued without complying with the ruling of the Justice Legall, which declared that before any such contracts or agreements can be entered into an Environmental Impact Assessment must be done.
The ruling is historic and has grave implications even for existing onshore contracts.