Sep 25, 2022 News
By Kiana Wilburg
Kaieteur News – Guyanese citizens, Frederick Collins and Godfrey Whyte, have taken the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to court to enforce a critical clause in the Liza Phase One environmental permit, recently issued to Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL).
That provision says ExxonMobil Corporation, the parent company for EEPGL, must cover costs for all environmental loss and damage that might result from a well blowout, oil spill or other failure in the Liza Phase One Development Project in Guyana’s Stabroek Block. Any “accident” in its operations will affect not only Guyana and Guyanese but most of the Caribbean countries and possibly beyond the region.
Kaieteur News understands that Mr. Collins and Mr. Whyte are represented by Mr. Seenath Jairam, SC, Ms. Melinda Janki and Mrs. Abiola Wong-Inniss.
Mr. Collins, a former insurance professional, said, “I can’t even drive my car without insurance. So it is incomprehensible that the government would allow Esso to operate without any form of insurance/guarantee from its parent company. An oil spill would be devastating for our country and region as many Guyanese and Caribbean peoples depend on the Ocean for their livelihoods. That is why we have decided that the time has come to take matters to the court for relief.”
Scores of other Guyanese citizens are also deeply concerned with the safety of Esso’s operations. Many have said they are shocked to learn that Esso has been using a faulty gas compressor and flaring billions of cubic feet of gas instead of re-injecting it. Citizens have also gone to court to challenge the flaring in a separate court case. Furthermore, Esso has also admitted to operating above the safety level of its production vessel.
According to Janki, an international lawyer, who is representing the litigants, this state of affairs is absolutely reprehensible. Janki said, “If there is any mistake in Esso’s operations and oil ends up in the Caribbean countries, Guyana could be liable for the damage as a result of international law. Liability from a well blowout or oil spill could cost Guyana billions of dollars and that cost to Guyana could be more than the money that Guyana supposedly gets under the deal. This is a massive financial risk and in my view, the permit clearly puts that financial risk on Esso and its parent ExxonMobil, and not on the Guyanese people.”
Janki further stated that communities in Guyana are taking lessons from major disasters like the BP Deep Water Horizon in 2010, which cost the company over US$65 billion and destroyed the environment and livelihoods. Unlike the United States of America, Janki posits that Guyana has no experience of oil and no oil/gas experts, engineers and other necessary technical staff to run an oil sector. She said too that Guyana also lacks the infrastructure to swiftly cap a well and mitigate the damage caused by a potential oil disaster.
Janki also noted that a World Bank project to build capacity has been downgraded to moderately unsatisfactory.
What further compounds the madness, in her eyes, is the fact that Esso is registered offshore and its financial position is unclear as it has been filing what it calls ‘branch’ accounts in Guyana.
In a separate litigation, a Guyanese citizen has asked the court to order Esso to comply with Guyana’s company law and file full accounts.
Mr. Seenath Jairam, SC, when asked for a comment, stated: “Any right thinking and objective person would and must be concerned about the possibility of a petroleum disaster on the high seas, which will cause untold damage, destruction and loss to an entire region and its peoples, so that it is absolutely crucial to have full and adequate insurance coverage from reputable insurers, which are capable of honouring billion dollar claims, in the event of an such accident or accidents.”
Jairam categorically stated that this is not a trifling matter. “It is a matter of immense concern to me and all persons who are environmentally conscious.”
To date, there are six cases in court regarding the operations of ExxonMobil’s affiliate Esso in Guyana.
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