Jul 27, 2021 News
– Guyana could be heading in same direction
By Carlos Gonsalves
Kaieteur News – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ExxonMobil recently concluded a series of public scoping meetings for the proposed gas-to-energy project at Wales. During these meetings, multiple persons expressed concerns about various aspects of the project. One of the chief concerns was the fact that the Environment Impact Assessment for the Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), would now be governed by a set of guidelines that date back to the year 2000, after the EPA withdrew its highly praised revised 2020 guidelines for reviewing and conducting Environmental Impact Assessments.
The EPA’s Senior Environmental Officer, Mrs. Candacie Thomas, in response to why the EPA had undertaken a revision of the guidelines, had previously stated that “the guidelines that were revised were [originally] done in 2004 – so the reason may be obvious but of course, the landscape has changed since then… hence the need to revise and update those guidelines so that they can remain relevant to what is happening in our country.”
The foregoing serves to justify the concern expressed by many stakeholders that Guyana’s most expensive project to date would inevitably be guided by rules set two decades ago. In a recent press release, the EPA apparently attempted to address this concern by noting that the retracted guidelines were not restricted to oil and gas and those guidelines are not mandatory for the conduct of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). Consequently, they stated that the retraction of the 2020 guidelines would in no way affect the quality of the EIA for Guyana’s gas-to-shore project. From all indications, the EPA has failed to adequately address a number of concerns raised by the public during the public scoping process for the gas-to-energy project. This inevitably translates to a concern about the execution of the EIA itself. The EPA has a mandate for objectivity in the conduct of EIAs and has to date fulfilled this mandate, however, the recent actions of the EPA inevitably lends to the fear that the EIA might fail to address the totality of relevant factors as it relates to the gas-to-energy project. Should this happen, concerned Guyanese would undoubtedly seek redress, and it appears likely that an inadequate EIA would inevitably face a court challenge, especially for a project of this scale. Such an occurrence has recently happened in South Africa two months ago.
In April, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and groundwork, both environmental organisations in that country, challenged the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s authorisation of the Richards Bay plant in the Pretoria High Court. This represents the first time that a gas-to-power plant has been challenged in a court in South Africa.
According to African online media house, Mail and Guardian, the case is centered on deficiencies in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), but also looks very closely at the polluting power of this massive new plant. In their court papers, the plaintiffs argue that the total life-cycle greenhouse gas and methane emissions from the power plant were not properly assessed. This is in light of the latest science suggesting, that the greenhouse gas footprint of Natural gas is worse than that of either coal or oil; particularly when considered within the 20-year timescale most relevant to our climate.
Mail and Guardian reveals that the court challenge also raises various ancillary issues like the project conflicting with the importance of Richard’s Bay for tourism, and as a gateway into the beautiful surrounding game parks and coastal spots. The plaintiffs argue that with the mining facilities, an industrial development zone and port facility, including one of the world’s largest coal exporting facilities, the town’s occupants are subject to very poor air quality and the marine and local environment is always under threat from leakages, spills and other industrial-related emissions and accidents.
The African news outlet reported that Richard Bay locals related, they did not know about the power plant. This lack of generalised and robust public consultation, according to the plaintiffs, has resulted in communities being marginalised and excluded from the public participation process.
A South African media house, The Daily Maverick, reported that the case against the power plant is buoyed by a study conducted by the Centre for Science and Industrial Research and an independent auditing firm named Meridian. This study shows that, under a least-cost scenario, a combined cycle gas plant, like the proposed Richards Bay plant, is not necessary for at least another 15 years, if at all, to meet South Africa’s energy demands. Until then, diesel can continue to be used by existing generators to meet needs during limited hours of peak electricity demand. This least-cost pathway avoids building expensive gas infrastructure unless and until the need arises and is economically justified, avoiding locking South Africa into long-term fuel cost commitments.
Sherelee Odayar, the oil, gas and energy project officer for the SDCEA, told the Mail & Guardian that “this litigation is important because gas, as an alternative energy source…is not the answer to solve South Africa’s electricity crisis. It’s costly and South Africans cannot afford this.” Gas, according to Odayar is a fossil fuel and a contributor to climate change, “therefore investing in gas infrastructure will only worsen our climate crisis, rather than solve it.”
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