Jul 19, 2022 News
…as company prepares to launch 35-well drilling campaign
Kaieteur News – US oil major, ExxonMobil is preparing for a new 35-well drilling campaign in the Stabroek Block, in a bid to discover more crude off the country’s coasts. Recently, the Government of Guyana indicated that an independent study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that oil and gas operations have not caused the noticeable decline in fish catches, but yet another document submitted by Exxon is pointing to impacts to the country’s fisheries sector.
In its most recent Project Summary for the 35 well exploration project, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), Exxon’s local subsidiary, said the campaign is likely to impact water quality and disrupt benthic habitats, resulting in a likely migration of such species.
It was on Friday last that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uploaded the Project Summary submitted by Exxon, seeking approval for the offshore activities.
According to the document that was seen by Kaieteur News, the proposed campaign can impact air quality, climate; marine sediments; marine water quality; coastal habitats; coastal wildlife; marine benthos; marine fish and turtles, riverine and marine mammals; seabirds, protected species and areas; ecological balance and ecosystems; employment and livelihood; community health and wellbeing; marine use and transportation; land use and a few others.
When it comes to the physical resources being impacted such as marine water quality, the document explained, “The Project will have localized impacts on marine water quality in the Prospect Areas from discharge of drill cuttings and from routine operational and hydrotesting discharges. The Project also could potentially impact marine water quality in the Prospect Areas as a result of non-routine, unplanned events (such as an) oil spill or release.”
Exxon pointed out that the increased total suspended solids’ concentrations, chemical concentrations, or temperature in the water column has the potential to affect marine water quality and marine habitat quality and affect wildlife. A few of the discharges include cooling water, wastewater, produced water, hydrotesting discharges and oil releases from any unplanned event.
Still on physical resources that are likely to be impacted, the developer said “The Project will disturb marine geology and sediments on a localized basis in the Prospect Areas and could impact sediment quality from deposition of non-aqueous base fluid adhered to discharged drill cuttings.” This means that there will be changes on the seafloor, within the proposed project site, that can cause harm to the organisms that dwell there, such as shrimp.
As it regards biological resources, the document notes, “The Project could potentially temporarily affect marine fish as a result of underwater sound, light, changes to seafloor habitat, and changes in marine water quality in the Prospect Areas. The Project could potentially impact marine fish in the Project AOI (Area of Influence) as a result of non-routine, unplanned events (such as an) oil spill or release.”
Specifically, it was explained that the project related noise could cause auditory injury or disturbance of marine organisms. Additionally, the entrainment of early life stages of fish, and potential trophic effects associated with concentration of prey species around artificial lights could occur.
On socio-economic resources that could be impacted by the 35 well drilling activities, Exxon related that a temporary increase in marine traffic could potentially contribute to marine vessel congestion in port areas that can increase the risk of collisions. In addition, “The Project will increase use of public infrastructure and services and thus could potentially compete with other existing businesses and consumers across a range of services (e.g., roads, airports/helicopters, accommodations, and utilities).”
ExxonMobil Guyana, intends to commence the 35 well campaign in the Stabroek Block during the third quarter of 2023, signaling that if discoveries are made, well tests may be performed. Conclusion of the proposed drilling campaign is expected by the fourth quarter of 2028.
The exact locations of the 35 exploration/appraisal wells comprising the Project have not yet been finalized. While some of the 35 wells will be drilled for exploration purposes, it is also possible that some of the wells may be drilled as appraisal wells within the proximity of previously drilled exploration areas. Therefore, four areas of interest have been identified within the Stabroek Block as the possible locations for the proposed 35 exploration/appraisal wells to occur.
The drilling of the wells in the Stabroek Block is expected to potentially occur simultaneously with other drilling activities, including: The Liza Phase 1 Project well drilling and production operations; The Liza Phase 2 Development Project well drilling program and production operations; The Payara Development Project well drilling program, installation, and start of production; Ongoing exploration/appraisal well drilling operations in the Stabroek Block covered under a 25-well campaign approved on 1 October 2019; The Yellowtail Development Project well drilling programme and installation operations; and two 12 well campaigns in the Kaieteur and Canje oil blocks for which environmental authorization is currently being sought.
As such, the EPA has ordered that a Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) be conducted.
Although local fishers have been complaining of lower catches, the Government of Guyana has not only dismissed these claims, producing figures in recent reports to support an increase in production, but have also told the nation that the oil and gas industry is not to be blamed for the reports of lower catches.
Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha told this publication two months ago that a study by the FAO has instead suggested that climate change may be responsible for the complaints. Even though he promised to release the study, it is yet to be released to the public.
It must be noted however that in all of its Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), ExxonMobil clearly warned of the dangers its operation can have on the country’s fisheries sector.
Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, in presenting the Budget for this year had noted that despite the challenges currently being faced by the subsector, fishing was estimated to have grown by 11 percent, having shown signs of recovery in the latter half of 2021 which resulted in some 15.7 percent growth in fish production.
He said too that notable increases were observed in production across all fish products, with the most significant growth observed for industrial finfish, which grew by 235.4 percent. “Undermining the subsector’s overall performance was a 13.5 percent decline in the production of shrimp, as a result of declines in catches of white belly and industrial seabob shrimp. These declines outweighed increased catches of artisanal seabob shrimp and prawns.”
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