Lawyers representing local activist Ramon Gaskin, in the legal challenge to Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, over his decision to grant oil subsidiaries licences to operate here without environmental permits, are resolute that Trotman acted unlawfully and outside his remit.
In the case filed in the High Court last year, Gaskin contends that Exxon’s partners in the Liza 1 project – Hess and Nexen – have no environmental permits allowing them to engage in oil exploration.
More specifically, he sought to block the companies from proceeding with their exploration and production on the grounds that Hess and Nexen are covered by the environmental permits issued to ExxonMobil, through its local subsidiary Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited.
He reasoned that Hess and Nexen will escape liability should there be an incident such as an oil spill that can affect the Caribbean islands.
The case unfolded before Chief Justice Roxane George over the past months.
The matter has since been set for ruling after final submissions were made to the Chief Judge.
In their submissions, Gaskin’s team comprising Trinidad-based Senior Counsel, Seenath Jairam and environmental Attorney Melinda Janki, contended that the Minister of Natural Resources acted inter alia irrationally , unlawfully, illegally and without or in excess of jurisdiction by purporting to grant the Petroleum Prospecting Licences (PPL) to Esso, Hess and Nexen, contrary to the Environmental Protection Act Cap 20:05.
The lawyers pointed out further that Section 14 of the Environmental Protection (EP) Act states that a public authority shall not give development consent in any matter where an environmental authorisation is a requirement, unless such authorisation has been issued…
The lawyers emphasised therefore that the environmental authorisation was required before the Minister could have lawfully issued a PPL to Esso, Hess and Nexen, as sections of the EP Act define public authority as “a Ministry, local government authority or local democratic organ “
To further clarify their contention, the lawyers referenced the Interpretation and General Causes Act Cap 2:01 which provides that any written law or in any public document, a reference to the Ministry shall be construed as a reference to the business of the Government of Guyana under the administration of the Minister, or any part thereof as the President may direct as constituting a Ministry.
“It is therefore beyond argument that the Minister of Natural Resources is caught squarely within the letter, spirit and meaning of the foregoing provisions, hence the Minister with the responsibility under the petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act Cap 65:04 is a public authority within the meaning of Section 14 of the EP Act and is duty bound to act within the law prescribed.
The Minister cannot escape his public duty by his shenanigans to put a twisted meaning to the otherwise pellucid provisions of the relevant statutes,” the attorneys posited.
We submit that effect of Section 2 of the Environmental Act is that of the public authority (the Minister that can only grant development consent to a person who is a developer within the meaning of the Environmental Protection Act.
Further, the lawyers argued that although the law provides for the Minister to grant approval for exploration licences; the licensing approval cannot be issued in isolation from provisions of the EP Act, they must read side by side.
Additionally, they pointed out that although Esso Exploration Limited was granted an environmental permit based on an environmental impact assessment, the other two subsidiaries did no assessments. They therefore stressed that it is not lawful for the other two companies to “piggy back” on the one permit granted to Esso, because of the precatory provision of the EP Act.
Additionally, Gaskin’s lawyers clarified at the outset that he did not seek judicial review of any action taken or decision made by Esso, Hess or Nexen.
They clarified that the additional factual material provided by the companies, which were listed as interveners in the matter, has no bearing whatsoever on the legal question of whether the Minister’s grant of the PPL is irrational and unlawful.
“We note that the respondents have responded ad nauseum, the arguments made by the respondent, they have added nothing new. It is as though they believe that the weight of the argument is by repetition, like a stuck gramophone.”
In order to avoid burdening the court with repetition, Gaskin’s lawyers said they stuck to the essence and merit of the case.
Meanwhile, from the onset of the challenge, parties representing the other side sought to have the case thrown out citing matters of jurisdiction among other issues.
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