I can fairly say, with some modesty, as we paraphrased that popular song of the early 70’s, we were environmentalists, when environmentalism wasn’t cool. We have had some modest gains, environmentally speaking, since we were environmental pragmatists – a not very popular group, but a successful one nevertheless, as we pursue our education and careers, into the field.
Today, Guyana has not just made a monumental discovery in oil (Black Gold), but a monumental explosion in its financial status. It is expected the various groups and individuals, all with a self-sacrificing interest in saving Guyana and its peoples, of course, would emerge.
I could remember, about a decade ago, asking the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency what determines his decision to approve a mining or logging permit. He mentioned that he knew who signed his paycheck, and if a directive came across his desk from the responsible minister or president, he signed it.
I asked him if there was a special tax on these various companies, whereby the monies would be used to repair environmental damage to land and water, and to replace trees in the Rainforest, which had taken at least seventy-five years to reach harvesting stage – that bit of information was told to me by a forest ranger. He did not want to comment further.
I do not know if that situation was corrected, over the years, but I am now reading from newly formed groups, invited experts, most of whose titles begin with, ‘former’, (this or that), individuals, academics, and at least one Nigerian multi-billionaire, who was reported, by one local newspaper – which shall remain anonymous, since no one else has commented on the article), to have gained his wealth in oil.
He spent one evening, somewhere in Guyana, giving a talk that seemed similar to recent visitors, at an unknown location, on an unknown date, at the invitation of persons unknown. My research on his web pages suggest that he gained his wealth in holding companies (buying and selling companies for a profit) which included some oil companies.
He, it was stated, traveled around the world, in his luxury yacht, or his private luxury jet. I am perfectly confident, if anyone had arrived in Guyana via a luxury boat or plane, AND WAS A MULTI BILLIONAIRE, Guyanese would still be talking. And most assuredly, he would have been a guest of the President, or at least paid a ‘curtesy call’. No one has disputed or confirmed this report, to date.
What is most troubling, is statements and lectures by some, who have made considerable progress, in their field, and have greatly improved the standards in those respective areas, but have now shown clearly Black Gold, or its vast discovery, is having some effect.
Because of this trend, I feel compelled to make some observations, which can be researched, to give an interested public, a better understanding of this new phase through which Guyana is being launched.
1. All accidents relating to oil spills are not the same. Environment and other factors preclude that.
2. Guyana cannot have an ‘Exxon Valdez’ type accident.
3. Oil tankers are now required to have double hulls. The outer hull could be damaged without an oil spill automatically happening.
4. Accidents are not caused by oil companies, but by one or two trained employees, who for a variety of reasons, have erred. (It was reported that the captain of Exxon Valdez was drunk and had turned control, of the vessel, over to a relatively inexperienced co-pilot)
5. Oil companies are owned by large and small shareholders, who to be sure, would like to see profits in their bank accounts, instead of paying for oil-cleanup. Hence the tendency of the industry is to research better ways and means to extract and ship oil. It is in their economic interest.
6. Though devastating at most times to the environment, most oil production in the world is relative accident-free. BUT ACCIDENTS CAN AND WILL HAPPEN.
7. Oil clean-ups usually involve three different factions, not including the Courts; Government, oil company and the myriad ‘environmental’ organizations, that will claim to be speaking for the people. Hence court cases can take months, if not years, while the environment deteriorates. Oil companies are now speaking out about this, some claiming that Courts are even colluding in the delay, while environmental organizations are mostly interested in filling their pockets and some local governments are not using the settlements where it is intended.
8. It is absurd for anyone, of reasonable sanity, to expect an oil company to tell a government what they should do with their payments/bonuses
In Guyana, resistance to this great oil discovery, is coming in many forms. The environmentalists, who may have a myopic environmental view, since they are solely interested in their own environmental concerns, the groups who feel that they will be victimized, when it comes to profit-sharing.
The talk about civil war, especially stating that such is an occurrence in other countries, as validation for such total erroneous comments, is troublesome. Nigeria’s Boko Haram is NOT fighting a civil war with the Nigerian government, as one such learned lecturer said. There are no civil wars being fought today over oil! The war between Sudan and South Sudan concerned their boundary line. Sudan wanted more territory from the South, which included more oil fields.
The talks broke down, so war may be imminent -unless the USA backs South Sudan, since Iran is now sending its military to support Sudan. Iraq sent military contingents to stop the Kurds from declaring independence, which would have incorporated most of the northern Iraq oilfields. The Kurds backed down. But that is not over.
A civil war in Guyana, in my humble opinion, would not be due to Black Gold, per se, but the tremendous influence one religious faction may have over the society. It is worth noting. Environmental groups need to look at all environmental problems Guyana now has, and firstly try, to work with the ‘green government’, in the best interest of a healthy Guyana.
“Greed is good!” said Michael Douglas in Wall Street, that famed movie of the 1990’s.
Greed is a great motivator for us to do evil. We ought to keep that in mind, as Guyana makes its first economical quantum leap, since bauxite was discovered in 1924.
Albert R. Cumberbatch, Ph. D.
(Environmentalist, Author. Educator)
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