Aug 14, 2020 News
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has written to Guyana seeking answers about the environmental hazard posed by offshore oil production, a hazard it considers a challenge to the human right to life.
The Committee has raised concern about the impact of such operations on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article Six of the decades-old Covenant, of which Guyana is a signatory, protects the right to life.
Paragraph 1 of Article 6 of the Covenant lays the foundation for the obligation of countries to respect and to ensure the right to life, to give effect to it through legislative and other measures, and to provide effective remedies and reparation to all victims of violations of the right to life.
In this regard, the United Nations has asked Guyana to provide information on the steps it has taken to prevent and mitigate the negative effects of climate change and environmental degradation, in the context of its extractive sectors.
The operations of ExxonMobil have been of particular concern to local stakeholders. The company has been flaring hundreds of millions of cubic feet of gas in the Stabroek Block for months, releasing hundreds of cancer-causing toxins into the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director, Dr. Vincent Adams, had told this newspaper that the oil giant has been burning approximately 12 million cubic feet of gas per day since May.
The multinational was supposed to put an end to its flaring by August 10, but Adams was recently informed that the company would not be able to make that deadline. All the while, the United Nations has been noting the gravity of this issue and its impact on “greenhouse gas emissions…ocean acidification and rising sea-levels.”
The UN is also concerned about the impact of such dangers on vulnerable groups, including Indigenous communities, fishery-dependent communities, and persons living in poverty. The Committee asked what steps Guyana has taken to ensure the natural resources are sustainably used, with particular mention of oil and gas. It also asked about the development and implementation of Guyana’s environmental standards, including the Environmental Protection Act; the country’s conduction or facilitation of environmental impact assessments, and the provision of appropriate access to information on environmental hazards.
Guyana has not made any updates to the Environmental Protection Act since oil was discovered. The country was advised far and wide to ensure legislative updates are made to facilitate the oil and gas industry as quickly as possible. Only one piece of legislation was introduced to facilitate oil production, and that was the Natural Resource Fund Act to collect the oil money. Otherwise, no legislative updates were made to ensure oil production is properly managed.
Meanwhile, ExxonMobil has received approval for the development of two oil projects, Liza Phases One and Two. It is also pressuring the government to grant a premature approval to its third development, despite not fixing the flaring issue.
Dr. Adams has noted that ExxonMobil’s opposition to paying paltry fines for small fuel spills in the Stabroek Block are indicative of a lackadaisical attitude which could spell disaster for Guyana.
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