Latest update March 28th, 2023 12:59 AM
Feb 04, 2023 News
By Davina Bagot
Kaieteur News – Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), commonly referred to as ExxonMobil Guyana has selected its longtime partner and London-based consultant, Environmental Resources Management to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for its sixth project in the Stabroek Block- the Whiptail development.
The credibility of ERM came under scrutiny just over a year ago after the signature of a People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) member; Shyam Nokta appeared on the cover of the developer’s EIA for the Yellowtail project, the fourth development in the rich Stabroek Block.
An apology letter was later issued by ERM explaining that Nokta played no role in the conduct of the EIA. In the letter seen by this publication, the ERM clarified, “In (the) conduct of the EIA, ERM did not engage with or involve Mr. Nokta or EMC (Environmental Management Consultants). ERM has no current relationship or engagement with Mr. Nokta or EMC to provide support to any EIA concerning the Yellowtail Development Project or otherwise. It is with deep regret that Mr. Nokta’s electronic signature was inadvertently included by ERM on the cover of the version of the EIA non-technical summary for the Yellowtail Development Project that was posted on the EPA’s website”.
Environmentalists had flagged the issue, referring to it as serious conflict of interest. Moreover, they highlighted the short timeline in which these studies were being prepared for the nation.
A group of Caribbean organizations had objected to the Yellowtail EIA done by ERM, insisting that the consultant group had been in fact been copying and pasting sections of their previous EIAs into new documents, without considering whether or not those assessments were done to honour the steps it had outlined regarding potential transboundary victims.
The group included the Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation, The Jamaica Fish Sanctuary Network, Jamaica Environment Trust, Institute for Small Islands, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea and Freedom Imaginaries.
It was also reported that ERM have hired experts to conduct those studies who have worked with the oil company for years. This much can be found in the most recent EIA completed by ERM for Exxon’s Gas-to-Energy project to be constructed at Wales, West Bank Demerara.
One of the experts at ERM, the Guyana Programme Lead, Partner-in-Charge, Mr. Todd Hall has over 25 years of broad experience in environmental consulting, focusing on environmental, social and health impact assessment, management plan development, multimedia permitting, site planning and licensing, remediation, and risk assessment.
His biography included in the EIA states that “Todd has worked with ExxonMobil for his entire career, from his first project involving a remedial investigation of a legacy ExxonMobil property, and he has led ERM’s programs for ExxonMobil at multiple downstream facilities, legacy sites, LNG (Liquified natural gas) regasification facilities, and upstream exploration and development projects worldwide.”
An EIA is intended to highlight the potential impacts from a project, outline measures that will be taken to mitigate these harmful impacts as well as inform the public what actions will be taken to respond in the event of an accident.
During a public scoping session for the project held at the Umana Yana, Kingston, Georgetown on Thursday, environmental advocate and Lawyer, Elizabeth Deane-Hughes asked ExxonMobil Guyana to explain why the oil company “is in bed again” with this consultancy group.
So far, ERM has completed all of Exxon’s environmental impact studies, with the exception of the most recent study completed by Acorn International for the fifth project- Uaru.
Responding to the citizen’s concern was the Projects Manager for ExxonMobil Guyana, Anthony Jackson. He explained, “ExxonMobil Guyana does engage in a process of assessing who can complete the (study), it’s a very large amount of work to conduct an EIA and the past experience in country is taken into account.”
Jackson continued, “ERM also is not exclusively used for conducting these EIAs…but ERM we went through an assessment process, we have a pretty detailed assessment process for who has the capability and the experience to do the work and we have elected ERM to represent us for this scoping session.”
In December 2021, a group of Environmentalist wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting that it discloses the list of other qualified consultants, from which ERM was selected to conduct EIAs.
In the document seen by this publication, the experts Simone Mangal-Joly, Alfred Buhlai, Vanda Radzik, Janette Bulkan, Denuta Radzik, Jerry Jailall, Alissa Trotz and Maya Trotz questioned the independence of EEPGL’s Consultant, ERM, since records at that time showed that the ExxonMobil subsidiary has only ever selected the ERM from a list of consultants, to conduct all its Environmental Impact Assessments and management plans.
Kaieteur News reported that one environmentalist; Simone Mangal-Joly questioned the independence of ERM.
She said, “There seems to be a long-term relationship between this firm, Esso [Exxon’s partner] and the Environmental Protection Agency in Guyana as it keeps selecting the same firm to do the study for Esso.”
According to Mangal, “the EPA Act requires that the firm is independent. You cannot claim independence when you have a long-term relationship doing all of the studies for the applicant [Esso] because you have a financial relationship now. This is a firm that established itself in Guyana and is doing all of Exxon‘s work effectively. It is not independent and Guyanese need to look at the EPA for failing to do its duty,”
Emphasizing the law, Mangal noted that the relationship between the three entities leaves many questions.
“The EPA Act is very clear, there must be independence and that independence has to be judged on serious criteria… Do you really think a firm is independent when they keep doing the studies one after the other? Are they the only qualified firm to do the job over and over again? And why is Guyana’s EPA failing the nation by not looking into this practical pattern that it is responsible for?” questioned the environmentalist.
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