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Belize Government Takes a Step Forward Against Offshore Oil Drilling

Government of Belize Withdraws Appeal Against Legal Ruling That Oil Concessions Are Null And Void – Decision Demonstrates Commitment To Protect Marine Resources, Belizean Livelihoods

Press Release, Oceana Belize, Wednesday, May 27, 2015 – Today, attorneys for the Government of Belize, Barrow & Company, filed a notice of withdrawal of appeal in the matter of Civil Appeal No. 18 of 2013: Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and Oceana in Belize; Citizens Organized for Liberty and Action and the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage. In this appeal, the Government had challenged an April 2013 decision issued by Justice Oswell Legall in favor of Oceana, COLA and the Coalition in their lawsuit challenging six Production Sharing Agreements allowing offshore oil drilling.

In response to today’s developments Oceana in Belize’s Vice President Janelle Chanona stated, “We view the decision by the Government of Belize to withdraw its appeal as a demonstration of the Dean Barrow administration’s commitment to safeguarding the country’s marine resources. Oceana Belize is in the process of proposing language to formalize the moratorium on Production Sharing Agreements for offshore areas which would ensure the protection of our economically important marine environment and outline clear benefits to Belizeans today and for future generations.”

In his ruling, Justice Legall made the following orders:
   (1) A declaration that the six challenged PSAs were null and void because no environmental impact assessment was carried out before making the agreements (in violation of the Environmental Protection Act) and the agreements were entered into with companies who did not demonstrate appropriate capabilities (in violation of the Petroleum Act);  
   (2) A declaration that “before entering into agreements or contracts which authorize oil exploration and seismic surveys, an environmental impact assessment is required”; and
   (3) An injunction restraining the government from carrying out the provisions of the challenged PSAs.

The government’s decision to file a Notice of Withdrawal of its appeal of Justice Legall’s decision today therefore affirms Justice Legall’s April 2013 decision. In addition to appealing Justice Legall’s ruling, the Government had obtained a stay of the injunction pending the appeal on the merits. The government has also agreed to lift the stay of that decision, for which Oceana and its co-plaintiffs will be filing an application shortly. Thus, Oceana expects that Justice Legall’s wise ruling will be fully in force in the very near future.

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