Latest update May 31st, 2023 12:59 AM
Mar 24, 2023 News
By Davina Bagot
Kaieteur News – The Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) on Thursday heard the appeals from citizens who believe the 300 megawatt combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plant that forms part of the US$2 billion Gas-to-Energy project must be subjected to a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a Notice published on January 6, 2023 announced that the project will not require the study, citing several reasons.
Two objections were received by the EAB to appeal this decision. The EAB, though its credibility and independence was constantly under question from the appellants, on Thursday listened to the concerns of the citizens at a Public Hearing at Cara Lodge in Georgetown.
The process did not allow for Guyanese in the Diaspora and far-flung locations in the country to participate as there were no provisions made for the sessions to be streamed virtually as well, despite requests were made.
The appellants had all asked the Chairman, Dr. Mahendar Sharma to resign from the post since he is a Director at the Guyana Power and Light Inc – the agency that will be fed power from the new gas plant.
Dr. Sharma is also the head of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) and the husband of Mrs. Nadir Sharma, Director of the Guyana Power and Gas Incorporated, the agency that has applied for an environmental permit.
Ignoring these concerns, the Chairman maintained his appointed role. Thursday’s hearing commenced with presentations from the two appellants, Vanda Radzik and Elizabeth Deane-Hughes and, Danuta Radzik.
Subsequently, the project developer, represented by Winston Brassington, presented an overview of the project, after which the EPA explained its decision to waive the EIA.
Each presentation was followed by a questions segment, in which the EAB scrutinized the details shared by each presenter.
First on the floor to share their concerns were Vanda Radzik and Elizabeth Deane-Hughes. The women in their 40-minute-long contribution to the session argued among other things that the EPA has no legal basis to waive the impact assessment for the gas project.
Radzik pointed to the recent ruling handed down by High Court Judge, Justice Nareshwar Harnanan, who said, “The EPA has a statutory duty to require an EIA to ensure that any activity which may cause an adverse effect be assessed before such an activity should be authorized as per…The Act taking into account the avoidance and the precautionary principles within that Act and any others. The application of these environmental and social principles precludes the EPA from permitting a dangerous activity or potentially dangerous activity or project based on the developer’s mere assurance.”
To this end, she contended that the waiver of an EIA in this case is therefore a breach of the EPA’s statutory duties.
She also reasoned, “We feel that the EEPGL’s Gas to shore permit on the whole is unlawful and again was issued in breach of legal requirements and again we quote from the (Environmental) Act Regulation 17:2 of the Environmental Protection Authorization regulations made under the Act that requires an application for an environmental authorization and that it shall contain the following…proof that applicant either owns the facility or has a lease or other agreement with the land owner or occupier.”
The appellants said this was not evident prior to the EPA granting a Permit to the oil company for the pipeline and Natural Gas Liquid (NGL). The Permit was granted on November 25, 2022 but the Government of Guyana between January 4 and 6 this year commenced the issuance of Orders in the Official Gazette for the acquisition of lands for the pipeline component of the project.
Radzik told the EAB, “Gas-fired plants and NGL facilities and the pipelines that feed them are notoriously dangerous. Peoples’ lives, livelihoods and lands are at risk. Toxic gases, chemicals and hazardous wastes are generated along with substantial emissions such as flaring that pollute the environment and affect the health of human.”
She pointed out that research shows burning fossil fuels at power plants create emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, carbon dioxide and other pollutants that lead to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and other health issues such as cancer and other immune system damage. As such she asked, “Why would an EIA not be required?”
Radzik also invited the EAB to consider these impacts as they can also affect adjacent communities.
Meanwhile, Danuta Radzik in her presentation firstly highlighted her lack of confidence in the EAB’s ability to host a fair hearing into the appeals made for the waiver of the EIA, due to the conflict of interest that abounds.
She nonetheless made her presentation insisting that an EIA for the project is required. According to her, “In three different paragraphs, this GTE EIA has stated that it does not cover the gas-fired power plant in any detail save and except when addressing cumulative impacts as such it cannot act as a substitute for a separate power plant EIA.”
Radzik explained, “To not require a separate EIA would be a violation of the EPA Act and an attempt to use an unacceptable back-door premise to deny stakeholders the right to access all necessary information through EIAs as set out in Guyana’s Environmental Act Fifth Schedule…”
She said that an explosion is likely at the facility and can cause serious injury, loss of life and devastate the environment, yet the EPA thought it appropriate to exempt a separate EIA for the power plant.
The activist said at least seven communities, according to ExxonMobil’s EIA, are within a mile from the power plant and the NGL plant site, thereby placing these citizens at direct risk of air emissions, dust, soil erosion, noise, earth tremors, lost access to agricultural lands and could potentially experience a boiling liquid vapour explosion, jet fire or a flammable cloud.
These risks all highlight the need for a thorough study to be done according to Radzik since the Exxon study does not adequately explain each risk and offer mitigation measures. Moreover, she said there is no estimate as to the casualties from explosions, jet fires, or other explosions from the power plant.
“It is therefore inaccurate to state that impact will be moderate to low…the fact that these communities are considered socio-economically and environmentally disadvantaged seems to make them even more acceptable as sacrifice zones for big oil and the beneficiaries of big oil,” she argued.
Alfred Bhulai, who identified as Radzik’s technical advisor also shared his thoughts on the EIA waiver, after objecting to Dr. Sharma’s role as Chairman of the Board due to conflict of interest and competence.
In his presentation, Bhulai said that there has been no study of alternative energy generation options. In fact, he told attendees that he had supplied Dr. Sharma with a cheaper solar alternative a few years ago but when he enquired what the GEA’s next step would be, he was told a subordinate officer would make contact; this was never done.
According to Bhulai, “Dr. Sharma is also too busy to fulfil his own commitment and should not be too busy to listen clearly to us in the time we are spending here otherwise somebody could do the job.”
He was keen to point out that the cost to fund the pipeline alone could provide more than 300 megawatt of power to citizens in Guyana. According to Bhulai, “The beauty about solar power is that it does not all have to be at once. It can be rolled out as the money comes in from oil without having to borrow costly capital. Operating costs are negligible, on this ground alone the Gas-to-Energy project should be scrapped.”
Winston Brassington in an almost hour-long presentation provided a detailed background on the GTE project, its location and economics, comprising the GPL demand and other benefits such as reducing emissions.
He explained that a 2019 feasibility study conducted for the project by an international consultant concluded that the emissions, on average, using the 50 million cubic feet of gas per day estimate will see an average 50 percent reduction in carbon dioxide.
“We will have a 46% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, when it came to sulphur dioxide emissions, 99 percent, and nitrogen oxide 92 percent,” Brassington noted.
As part of the clarification process by the EAB, Brassington was asked to explain why the gas-fired power plant was not included in the EIA done by Exxon for the other components of the project.
To this end, Brassington pointed out, “Essentially Exxon, when the project started, Exxon covered in the ESIA what they are going to fund. For the initial plan was that they were gonna fund the NGL facility. The initial plan was that they were gonna do all of the preparatory work that needed to be done before the power plant…so that is why they covered all of what they did.”
Subsequently, Brassington said Exxon communicated to the government that there were more economic benefits for combining the power plant with the NGL facility. “They said to the government, we find that there are significant economic benefit of combining the NGL plant and the power plant…and so the government agreed to that and ultimately the government decided that it would be better for the government to own everything- the NGL and the power plant and Exxon would build and finance the pipeline.”
Brassington was also asked by the EAB Chairman to explain whether there were any communities nearby to the project area. He assured that the nearest community is “three or four kilometers east”. South-west of the project is the Amerindian village, Santa Aratak about 11 kilometers away.
“For a few kilometeres going North, you have little or no villages,” he said. This statement was however objected to by the appellants at the hearing who asked him to say specifically “what are a few” and exactly where is the nearest village.
Brassington said the nearest village is approximately three or four kilometeres.
The Environmental Protection Agency in its presentation defended the Gas-to-Energy project, explaining that the nation’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) outlines the transition to cleaner energy through the utilization of natural gas.
“The LCDS 2030 which is an approved policy document provides the approach to cleaner energy. It clearly articulates the direction in which Guyana will transition in this regard. Natural gas is clearly stated as a transition whilst exploring and developing alternatives such as solar, hydro, wind, etc. Importantly, issue should be focused on alternatives to heavy fuel oil which natural gas is the transition to renewables.”
Executive Director of the Agency, Kemraj Parsram said as it regards explosions, an emergency response plan and gas leak detection system, once the project is permitted, will be required as a condition.
He assured the Board that the role of the EPA is not limited to deciding whether an EIA is required or not for projects, but rather to implement provisions into permits to form part of regulating the project.
This is particularly important according to Parsram, otherwise the EPA would order an EIA for all “aircraft that comes into Guyana, or every car that you drive around because they all emit pollutants,” therefore he insisted, “we have to be sensible and that’s what the EPA is doing, [being] sensible based on scientific information and practical.”
While GPL had initially submitted the application for the project, he said the Guyana Power and Gas Inc. is now the new applicant. This company is state owned.
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