May 24, 2022 News
Kaieteur News – Guyana’s Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, has said that climate change is to be blamed for the noticeable decline in fish catch and not the offshore oil and gas operations. He used the findings of an “independent” study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as the basis for his conclusion, but to assure the public of the report’s credibility, Environmentalist Simone Mangal-Joly has made a request for the organisation to release the document.
In a letter addressed to the Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Julio Berdegue, Mangal-Joly explained that the statements made regarding the report must be immediately and publicly addressed by the highly respected institution.
“I hereby request that the FAO immediately and publicly address the matter of whether it has credible conclusions on offshore oil and gas impacts on fisheries and release the study to which Minister Mustapha refers with all supporting datasets. By providing this information, the public will be assured of the FAO’s comprehensiveness and neutrality, and the FAO will be able to maintain its image of respectability that the Guyanese People and indeed the People of the Caribbean deserve of a public agency,” she reasoned.
Mangal-Joly, who is also a geologist, had sent a separate letter to Minister Mustapha which has gone unacknowledged, at least up to press time.
Nevertheless, she reminded the FAO in her missive that impacts of offshore oil and gas activities has been the subject of much debate. To date, ExxonMobil has been granted four environmental permits to conduct its activities, in the absence of key studies which should form the foundation for its operations to be authorised, the environmentalist said.
Mangal-Joly specifically pointed out that “the location of valuable environmental receptors, such as reefs and fish nurseries, in relation to ExxonMobil’s installations, effluent outflows, ocean currents, and commercial and subsistence fishing grounds” is absent.
Furthermore, she argued that there is no evidence whatsoever that a comprehensive commodity chain assessment or quantification of the value of Guyana’s subsistence and commercial fisheries sector has ever been conducted. According to her, “There is no evidence that a Catch Per Unit Effort study has ever been conducted to support conclusions drawn from off-take data on the state of fish stocks. There is also no evidence whatsoever that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is monitoring and enforcing any requirements for discharge standards and other environmental provisions in the permits that ExxonMobil enjoy. Finally, there is no evidence of offshore longitudinal research studies in place to track changes in Guyana’s fish and marine resources.”
To this end, the environmentalist told the FAO representative that the EPA violated the Environmental Protection Act, on March 31, 2022 when it granted the Yellowtail Project Environmental Permit, in which the Agency asked ExxonMobil to study the likelihood of its own impact on fisheries.
“This is an assessment that ought to have been conducted as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process and the findings used as a criterion for the Agency’s decision on whether a permit should have been granted. The mere fact that this Government Agency asked a private company to undertake the assessment task, and has failed for five years to provide any monitoring and evaluation reports on offshore practices, signals that it had no credible research information regarding the impacts of offshore oil and gas activities on Guyana’s fisheries sector, nor was it expecting such information from a third party at the time that it granted the permit,” she contended.
In a brief telephone interview on Friday, the Minister told Kaieteur News 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.”
Fishermen in Guyana have been complaining bitterly of low catch over the past months, blaming the situation on oil giant, ExxonMobil’s operations offshore.
But even though high ranking government officials have shot down this claim, arguing that there is no data to prove this, Exxon’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), which is gearing to startup production at the Yellowtail development, has warned that its operations can impact fish within the project site. In fact, this warning is included in all of the EIAs submitted by the company for its offshore operations.
For instance, 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.
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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