Sep 27, 2023 News
Kaieteur News – An oil spill that occurs at ExxonMobil’s sixth planned project, the Whiptail development can cause irreversible damage to the country’s resources located offshore and onshore.
This information is contained in the 3636 paged Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by the company’s Consultant, Environmental Resources Management (ERM).
According to the Chapter 3.5 of the study, which provides information on the ‘Degree of Irreversible Damage’, some 257 hectares of offshore benthic habitat will be permanently lost to facilitate the installation of wells, flowlines, and other subsea equipment. The Consultant explained that the equipment will most likely be left in place after decommissioning as it can ultimately provide a substrate for recolonization of the impacted areas.
Meanwhile, as it regards irreversible damage from an oil spill, the EIA noted that even if a large spill were to occur, it would not cause great permanent losses. “Even in the unlikely event of a large marine oil spill, little irreversible damage would be expected, although it could take a decade or more for all resources to fully recover, depending on the volume and duration of the release, as well as the time of year,” the EIA explains.
It must be noted that during the recently concluded stakeholder consultations hosted by Exxon, this newspaper asked ERM to specify what portion of the coast could be exposed to irreversible damage and the resources that could potentially suffer. The team however said this was not assessed.
“There is a probability that a spill would reach certain sections of shore so whether it’s a 5-10% chance, or a 10-20% chance that that shoreline would be affected. For irreversible, irremedial damage, I’m not sure that that’s something (we studied or) that’s part of our analysis there. No, we do look at things like reversibility and remediability in the planned events because we have a lot more information on the planned events in terms of the process of going through those impacts,” ERM’s Socio-economic Resources / Stakeholder Engagement Specialist, Anna Sundby explained.
The lack of this information could potentially raise questions as to why, if such a danger exists, it was not studied to properly inform the Guyanese authorities of what to expect or prepare for in the future.
Based on oil spill modeling conducted for the Whiptail Development Project, portions of the coastline in Regions 1 and 2 could potentially be impacted in the unlikely event of a spill. Be that as it may, the models used do not predict what the likely portions of the coast that can potentially be impacted are. It also did not list any of the resources on the coast that may be impacted as a result of a spill.
The EIA states that unplanned events, such as an oil spill are unlikely to occur because of the preventative measures employed by the project developer, EMGL, however it did not shy away from the fact that an event is possible.
It said that the types of resources that would potentially be impacted and the extent of the impacts on those resources would depend on the volume and duration of the release, as well as the time of year at which the release were to occur. It however pointed out that impacts would tend to be most significant for a well-control event with loss of containment during the drilling and installation stage of the project.
The Whiptail development is expected to produce an average 263,000 barrels of oil per day (BoPD). It seeks to develop the resources discovered in the Whiptail, Pinktail and Tilapia fields. Current plans include drilling via drill ships to produce oil from approximately 40 – 65 production and injection wells, commencing as early as the fourth quarter of 2027.
ERM said Exxon conducted oil spill modeling to evaluate the range of likely spill trajectories and rates of travel. It explained, “The offshore location of the Project, prevailing northwest currents, the light nature of the Whiptail field crude oil, and the region’s warm waters would all help reduce the severity of a spill. Accounting for these factors, modeling of an unmitigated subsea release of crude oil from an unmitigated loss-of-well-control event would result in a 5 to 40 percent probability of oil reaching the Guyana coast, without taking into consideration the effectiveness of any oil spill response measures as outlined in the OSRP (Oil Spill Response Plan).”
It continued to point out, “Although the likelihood of an oil spill occurring and reaching the Guyana coast is very small and any such spill would be mitigated, modeling of an unmitigated subsea release of crude oil from a loss-of-well-control event indicates the spill could impact coastal habitats and protected areas.”
ERM therefore noted that a spill would likely impact any marine resources found near the spill, which could include marine turtles, marine mammals, and marine birds that may be transiting or inhabiting the area impacted by a spill, as well as marine water quality and marine sediments.
In the meantime, it said other physical and biological resources such as air quality, marine fish, and marine benthos could also be impacted, to a lesser extent because the duration of impacts would not be long would be reversible.
The study highlighted that a spill could also potentially impact Guyanese fisherfolk if commercial fish and shrimp resources were impacted. “The magnitude of this impact would depend on the volume and duration of the release, as well as the time of year at which the release were to occur.” Again, the Consultant assured that effective implementation of the OSRP would reduce this risk by reducing the ocean surface area impacted by a spill and thereby reduce the exposure of these resources to oil.
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