Oct 18, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Should an unmitigated oil spill occur at ExxonMobil’s fourth development project in the Stabroek Block called Yellowtail, it could have far-reaching effects for Region One to Two. But the effects do not stop there. There can also be devastating implications for the marine life and ecosystems of nations such as Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
The foregoing risk was noted in ExxonMobil’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of the approval process for the project.
According to the document seen by this newspaper, the project will be producing, processing, storing, and offloading oil as its core activity. As such, “the risk of an oil spill would be present.”
ExxonMobil’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), said it identified 16 spill scenarios, including spills of different types of hydrocarbons (e.g., crude oil, marine diesel, fuel oil, lubricating oil), with several being applicable for spills at the shorebases and on vessels in the Demerara River estuary (e.g., from a supply vessel) or in the Atlantic Ocean (e.g., from a well, drillship, supply vessel, tanker, FPSO).
But the largest of these scenarios considered a loss-of-well-control incident at the seafloor. In such a scenario, EEPGL said there is a 5 to 40 percent chance of the oil contacting the coast in Region One, and a 5 to 10 percent probability of the oil reaching Region Two. Expounding in this regard, EEPGL said, “If oil were to reach the Guyana shoreline, those resources most at risk would include protected areas (i.e., Shell Beach), coastal habitats (especially mangroves and marshes), and coastal wildlife (especially birds), as well as coastal communities and indigenous peoples dependent on fishing in the ocean and other ecosystem services.”
EEPGL further noted that based on the oil spill models it considered, there is the potential for an unmitigated oil spill to reach three main geographic regions: Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, and the so called “ABC Islands” (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao). Other countries that could be affected include: Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Grenada.
Due to its location at the southern end of the Lesser Antilles, EEPGL was keen to note that Trinidad and Tobago has the highest probability of any of the Antillean islands of shoreline oiling as a result of a loss-of-well-control event. The probability of oiling at least a portion of the coast of Trinidad and Tobago and/or its coastal waters is approximately 10 to 100 percent, the oil company said.
Despite the foregoing risks, EEPGL was keen to note that it is taking every possible measure to ensure that its operations are safe. In fact, EEPGL was keen to note that its well-control philosophy is focused on blowout prevention using safety and risk management systems, management of change procedures, global standards, and trained experienced personnel. EEPGL further stated that it has a mature programme that emphasizes attention to safety, well control, and environmental protection. It said this includes proper preparation for wells (e.g., well design, well-control-equipment inspection and testing), detecting changes in pressure quickly, and efficiency in the process for temporary closing of a well (personnel training and proficiency drills).
In addition to these prevention measures, EEPGL said it has also developed a detailed Oil Spill Response Plan (OSRP) to ensure an effective response to an oil spill, if one were to occur. The OSRP, it said, identifies the organizations that would respond to a release event depending on the magnitude and complexity of the spill. Kaieteur News understands that the OSRP clearly delineates the responsibilities of each entity that would take part in a response and describes how EEPGL would mobilize both its own resources and those of its oil spill response contractors, as well as notifying the government of Guyana with respect to mobilizing its resources.
ABOUT THE YELLOWTAIL PROJECT
EEPGL, on behalf of itself and its co-venturers, Hess Corporation and CNOOC Petroleum Guyana Limited, is seeking an environmental authorization from the Environmental Protection Agency for a fourth project development in the eastern half of the Stabroek Block. The area that will be developed as part of the Project is located approximately 203 kilometers (approximately 126 miles) northeast of the coastline of Georgetown, Guyana.
As part of its regulatory role, the EPA, considering recommendations from the Environmental Advisory Board and other government entities, is responsible for deciding whether and under what conditions to grant EEPGL’s application for environmental authorisation which was filed with the EPA on April 1, 2021.
Based on an initial assessment of the application, the EPA determined that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was required in support of the Application. The purpose of the EIA is to provide the factual and technical basis required by the EPA to make an informed decision on EEPGL’s application for environmental authorisation.
According to project documents, Yellowtail will consist of the drilling of approximately 41 to 67 development wells (including production, water injection, and gas re-injection wells); installation and operation of Subsea, Umbilicals, Risers, and Flowlines equipment; installation and operation of a Floating Production, Storage, and Offloading (FPSO) vessel in the eastern half of the Stabroek Block; and— ultimately—Project decommissioning.
EEPGL has said the FPSO will be designed to produce up to 250,000 barrels of oil per day.
Onshore logistical support facilities and marine/aviation services will be used to support each stage of the Project. EEPGL is expected to use proven and good international oilfield practices. The company said it has incorporated many embedded controls into the overall Project design to reduce environmental and socioeconomic impacts.
The initial production is expected to begin by end of 2025–early 2026, with operations continuing for at least 20 years. The project is expected to employ up to 540 persons during development well drilling, approximately 600 persons at the peak of the installation stage, and 100 to 140 persons during production operations.
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