May 22, 2022 News
Although ExxonMobil warned operations could impact fish…
By Davina Bagot
Kaieteur News – Oil giant ExxonMobil has warned in all of its Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) prepared to date that its offshore operations could impact marine species, including fish, but an “independent study” conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has found otherwise.
This is so according to the Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha.
The Minister told Kaieteur News on Friday that the study has concluded that the visible impacts to the local fisheries sector was merely as a result of climate change. According to him, “It’s not as a result of that (oil operations)…the report says about climate change and the fresh water that was responsible.”
On the other hand, the official added that there has been an increase in fish catches recently. However, when he was pressed to say how much of an increase and what method was used to determine the increase, Mustapha said he was in a meeting and would return a call.
The Minister did not keep his promise to call after his meeting and yesterday all efforts proved futile when this publication again tried reaching him by phone.
He had noted, during the earlier conversation, that the FAO report would be released shortly after the government peruses it.
In all of its EIAs submitted to the relevant authorities, the American oil giant’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL) has admitted that an oil spill from its approved Liza Phase One, Liza Phase Two, Payara and Yellowtail Projects, has the potential to cause significant damage to the commercial fishing industry.
But even with no oil spill, fishermen have been complaining, especially in recent times, that their catch is dwindling at worrying rates. Dreading the destruction of the industry, they had appealed to the government to conduct a study to understand how, and to what extent, EEPGL’s oil production and development operations are affecting their main source of income.
Reports of fish shortage on the local market and the decline in catch by fishermen triggered the study by the Ministry of Agriculture back in December last year.
During a meeting with fishermen on November 24, 2021, the Minister acknowledged that there is indeed a shortage of fish. It was there he made the commitment to undertake a study to get a true understanding of the situation. At the meeting, the Agriculture Minister informed the fishermen that the government has since engaged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FAO to assist with conducting an analysis to determine the reason behind the low catches.
Kaieteur News had reported on the cries of fishermen, who complained of a steep decline in their catches and predicted that they may very well be out of jobs in the next five years, while they attributed this to ExxonMobil’s operations offshore.
Deep within the EIA of the Payara Project are blatant admissions from EEPGL that this third oil development which will produce over 220,000 barrels of oil per day, can have an impact on the migratory pattern of the local fish stock. It also warned that toxic effects can also be unleashed on these aquatic vertebrates.
The oil company noted that its drilling operations for the project will have an impact by way of artificial lighting on drill ships and major installation vessels, installation of equipment for vessels including pile driving, permitted liquid waste discharge, and permitted drill cuttings and fluids discharge. The key effects on the fishing industry from this project are as follows: changes in the distribution of fish due to altered water quality, auditory impacts from vessel sound, auditory impacts from sound from vertical seismic profile surveys and pile driving and attraction to artificial light.
As for production operations, EEPGL said this could lead to changes in the distribution of fish due to altered water quality, auditory impacts from vessel sound, changes in distribution and habitat usage due to altered bottom habitats and the presence of project infrastructure, and loss of fish eggs and larvae due to entrainment of immature life stages.
EEPGL was also keen to note that the combined impact of increased temperature and chlorine concentrations will make the localised mixing zone inhospitable to some species.
Similarly, for its fourth project, the Yellowtail development, EEPGL said marine fish could be impacted as a result of deteriorated water quality, from discharges generated during the project. In addition to poor water quality, acoustic effects or noise from the company’s operations can also cause fish to be impacted. These species can also be sucked into the equipment which Exxon will be utilising for oil production, the impact assessment cautioned.
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