Oil Industry Experts Assess Belize

Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage’s expert assess oil industry
The Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage is involved on a nationwide campaign for a referendum on the question of oil drilling and exploration. It is still short of the seventeen thousand signatures required for the poll, but as the deadline approaches, it has solicited the help of two foreign technical experts to assess the oil and petroleum situation in Belize. It is early to tell whether the public will support oil drilling but the Coalition says that they hope that the expert findings to be released before the end of this month will be used to make informed decisions. The first of the two experts who said he is working pro bono, Rick Steiner, a professor in Anchorage Alaska has been in Belize over the past week on a scientific and technical fact finding mission to evaluate the country’s position in terms of spill liability, financial liability, regulations and Environmental Impact Assessments. But according to Steiner, unlike other countries, the industry doesn’t yet have adequate standards for oil production.
Rick Steiner, Professor, Anchorage, Alaska
“This is a hugely important decision for Belize; whether to do additional oil and gas exploration development in Belize, where to do it and how to do it. If it is to be done, it has to be done with the highest global standards, best available technology using American Petroleum Institute and American Society for Mechanical Engineering standards. Many other countries require their oil industry to meet those standards as a legal requirement, my understanding so far here is that Belize has no such requirement and so that there are likely insufficient standards here for the existing oil and gas production you have at Spanish Lookout.”
Giovanni Brackett, Chairman, Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage
“We wanted to meet with the management at Big Creek, the port but that hasn’t been as accommodating. We wanted also to meet with B.N.E. since they’re the only oil producing company and that would’ve been an excellent opportunity to bridge the gap between the advocates and the oil company. But they made it very clear from couple months ago that would not entertain such activity to have a foreign expert tour their compound.”
Rick Steiner “If an oil well blows out and its in an aquatic or wet ecosystem like at Sarstoon Temash you can have large oil spill in an aquatic system that you simply could not deal with. That’s another important point here that the oil spill contingency plan in process is very new, there is no existing good oil spill plan here and even if there is, when there is, I will certainly help the government and industry put one together. But even when there is, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as an effective oil spill response to an offshore marine oil spill.”
Giovanni Brackett
“We visited the Rio Bravo Reserve these past couple days, walking the seismic lines that have been done three-four years ago, some by B.N.E., and some by RSM. It was very visible to see that after couple years this vegetation hasn’t grown, that it has led to increase in illegal logging and in some case, the illegal capturing of parrots and the general increase pressures on the reserves. It was the same thing in the Sarstoon Temash Park, which is a RAMSAR site.”
Rick Steiner
“As we flew over the country last couple of days I saw lots of areas that probably would have low environmental sensitivity that could you know be open to oil and gas development., those areas around the large agricultural plots you know down in Stann Creek and such like that and some very flat areas that are non-permeated with water where if you had a major spill it probably wouldn’t flow so there are some areas which you probably could zone as appropriate with the best available technologies for oil and gas but there are also some areas that should remain sacrosanct and should not be open to oil development.”
Steiner said that Belize is party to two of the International Marine Pollution Protocol Pollution Protocol which are Civil Liability Convention and the 1992 International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund which covers Belize up to three hundred million U.S. dollars in the case of a massive offshore oil spill. However, Belize isn’t a part of the Supplementary Fund which covers up to over one billion U.S. dollars. Richard Fineberg, an Economist who specializes in Production Sharing Agreements, is expected to arrive in the country this Wednesday. We contacted Kevin Herrera, C.E.O. at CH Belize Energy LP, who said that they have extended the invitation to the executive of the Coalition for a tour of B.N.E.’s facilities but that invitation was turned down. Herrera went on to say that the coalition seemed more interested in bringing a foreign expert, something which they will not accommodate on the grounds that they aren’t sure of the terms of reference of the expert nor have they ever heard of such a request to entertain a third party expert.