Jul 26, 2022 News
Kaieteur News – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has joined Exxon Mobil contractor, Schlumberger in defending the placement of a hazardous radioactive waste facility at Houston East Bank Demerara.
Both the EPA and Schlumberger filed separate affidavits defending the decision to place the facility at Houston after residents moved to the court seeking an injunction against the operations. The parties have held that the construction of the radioactive facility is in keeping with the legal and regulatory requirements of the EPA.
The case is based on Fixed Date Application (FDA) by residents of Houston, Vanda Radzik, Danuta Radzik and Raphael Singh who are requesting a court order to quash the EPA’s decision to grant the US-owned onshore oil and gas company, permission to build the radioactive storage facility at Houston, East Bank Demerara (EBD).
Citing a host of grave health and environmental dangers, the residents claimed the authorisation granted by the EPA was done in absence of evidence, on whimsical and capricious grounds which are against the agencies own policies and without any legal foundation or authority.
During a presentation of oral arguments into the matter before High Court Justice Nareshwar Harnanan on Monday, the specific issue related to the EPA’s policy was raised. The judge has set September 23 at 3:00pm to hand down his decision. It was pointed out by attorneys for the applicant, Siand Dhurjon, Ronald Burch-Smith and Marlene Alleyne that while EPA failed to publish its decision to waiver Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Houston Facility, the agency, in the case of another radioactive facility at Coverden, EBD made sure the waiver was made public.
Just last week, the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) overruled the EPA decision to set aside the decision of the EPA that no EIA is required for the project.
Among other things, the attorneys held that decision of the EPA to grant the company permission to build facility in the absence of critical evidential information and by overlooking the need for such.
In a nutshell, the EPA said that it is within its right to grant Schlumberger permission to build the facility at Houston for the storage/calibration of radioactive materials.
The agency said the right to grant waivers falls within the ambit of Sec. 17 11 of the EPA Act, which essentially provides the agency leverage to waiver the EIA in cases “‘Where any activity by itself does not have a significant effect on the environment …”
In the meantime Schlumberger which is represented by attorney Nigel Hughes noted that under section 11 (2) of the EPA Act: “Where it is not clear whether a project will significantly affect the environment, the developer, in this case Schlumberger, shall submit to the agency a summary of the project which shall contain the information as required and the Agency shall within a reasonable period publish in at least one daily newspaper a decision with reasons as to whether the project will not significantly affect the environment, and therefore exempt from the requirement for an environmental impact assessment; or may significantly affect the environment and will require an environmental impact assessment.
In the circumstances, the Exxon Mobil contractor through its lawyer contended that the obligation to publish a decision with respect to an EIA therefore only arises where it is not clear whether a project will significantly affect the environment.
“We respectfully contend that the grant of the construction permit and operational permit by the EPA to Schlumberger to operate its source calibration and storage facility is consistent with the Environmental Protection Act, and accordingly is not amenable to the orders being sought by the applicants in the Fixed Date Application,” oil contractor submitted in the document.
Vanda Radzik, Danuta Radzik and Raphael Singh who are said to be environmentalist have asked for an order of injunction to prevent Schlumberger from continuing any construction of the facility.
They are seeking a court order to forbid the EPA, its agents and servants from permitting or otherwise issuing an environmental authorization to operate a radioactive substance and material storage and calibration facility at Lot 1 area x Houston Georgetown.
According to the information related to the case, seen by this publication on January 19, 2022, the EPA approved Schlumberger’s application for permission to use, store and possess radioactive materials at its facility at lot 1 Area X , Houston without any inkling of a notice given to the public.
The EPA had previously advertised on 11th April, 2021, in the newspapers that Schlumberger wanted to construct a building to house the radioactive materials at lot 1 Area X , Houston, beside the East Bank Demerara public road and that the construction process would not require an environmental impact assessment.
Upon seeing, the notice dozens of residents of the East Bank formally objected to the waiver of the need for an environmental impact assessment into the construction process on the grounds that an EIA was inherently necessary and that radioactive materials should not be used and located in close proximity to schools, neighbourhoods, a main thoroughfare, the Demerara River, etc.
The EPA assured that this was only for the construction aspect of the undertaking by Schlumberger and that they would get a better opportunity to speak on the merits and demerits of the actual radioactive storage facility’s operation when Schlumberger seeks an application for same.
It was noted then that under section 11 of the EPA Cap.20:05, any project that may significantly affect the environment requires an environmental impact assessment and such an assessment requires publication in the newspapers of the intended project and consultations with the public.
In one of several affidavits to support their claim, the residents explained some of the efforts that were taken to prevent the EPA from granting permission for hazardous waste facility to be constructed. Among the affidavits are documents signed by Mayor and City Council (M&CC) representative Celihsia Hall for constituency 15– residential areas stretching from Agricola to D’Aguiar Park.
Additionally, the councillor noted that Schlumberger operations are against the zoning required since the residential constituency was never rezoned to allow for industrial uses. As such, she noted her support for the residents as they seek reliefs from the court to have the facility removed from Houston and placed in an area that is less hazardous to residents.
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