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Offshore oil drilling stopped in Belize
Published on April 18, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

BELIZE CITY, Belize -- On Tuesday, Belize's Supreme Court declared offshore drilling contracts issued by the government of Belize (in 2004 and 2007) null and void, providing a dramatic and potentially definitive setback to the government of Belize and the petroleum prospecting companies issued the contracts.

The ruling, handed down by Justice Oswell Legall, was in response to a case brought by Oceana, COLA, and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage. It effectively ends the Belizean government's immediate effort to allow offshore oil drilling in the Meso American Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.

The court overturned the contracts after determining that the government failed to assess the environmental impact on Belize's ocean, as required by law, prior to issuing the contracts. The court also found that contracts were made to companies that did not demonstrate a proven ability to contribute the necessary funds, assets, machinery, equipment, tools and technical expertise to drill safely.

Oceana has campaigned against offshore drilling in Belize for more than two years. In 2011, after collecting the 20,000+ signatures required to trigger a national referendum that would allow the public to vote on whether or not to allow offshore oil drilling in Belize's reef, the government disqualified over 8,000 of these signatures effectively on the basis of poor penmanship, stopping the possibility of a vote.

Oceana answered by quickly organizing the nation's first ever "People's Referendum" on February 29, 2012, in which 29,235 people (Belize's entire population is approximately 350,000) came from all over the country to cast their votes. In this historic vote, 96% voted against offshore exploration and drilling. The government subsequently almost lost its majority in the national election that followed these votes.

Oceana is fighting for a complete ban on offshore drilling in Belize and believes the government of Belize should allow the people to express their opinion in an official referendum.

"This is a great day for the people and country of Belize and its democratic process and it shows that we, as ordinary citizens, need not sit back and only complain about all the wrong decisions our government makes, but that we can use the judiciary system to settle them," said Audrey Matura-Shepherd, vice president of Oceana in Belize.

Oceana has long voiced its concern about the potentially devastating impact of an oil spill on Belize's reef and its economy, which depends heavily on tourism and the barrier reef. The companies were granted the oil concessions essentially in secret.

Princess Petroleum, whose contract was just overturned, began as a hotel and casino company before it was granted concession to explore for oil. The company was granted exploration rights by the government of Belize over the Blue Hole, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination made famous by legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Bill Lahey, a senior partner at the law firm of Anderson & Kreiger that helped represent Oceana in this case said, "Anderson & Kreiger is honoured to have helped Oceana win this major victory which protects one of world's most precious barrier reefs and tourism in Belize."
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Paco Smith:

Kudos to OCEANA and all who continue to protect Belize's marine environment. This is certainly a step in the right direction, as the ruling distinguishes the blatant corruption that abounds throughout the government.

Indeed, the majority of the contract may have been signed during a previous administration, but the fact remains that the current government is seeking to uphold the unscrupulous status quo. This gives testimony to the notion of the PUDP, for both political parties are part and parcel of the lack of respect for our laws and the subsequent outcomes...such as the granting of off-shore oil contracts without an Environmental Impact Assessment! This is fundamental and neither administration has demonstrated the commitment to good governance practises.

This is but the tip of the iceberg, as this ruling deals with off-shore drilling. If successive governments have acted in contradiction of the law within this realm, what do you think may be the case involving terrestrial oil exploration? Well, there is a matter which speaks to that as well, for I can recall that government allowed for seismic testing and other petroleum-related matters to occur in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park...a protected area! That matter, if I recall correctly, may also be under judicial review. Nonetheless, it is testimony to pure shortsightedness of our "so-called leaders".

I am not against oil exploration, but when it comes to the off-shore variety, I say a COMPLETE BAN is in order. Our maritime areas and ecosystem is far too fragile to place at risk. In terms of terrestrial oil exploration, I have no problem with it, as long as the laws are strictly adhered to and that means NO DRILLING IN PROTECTED AREAS!

Belizeans, it is time to make these politicians accountable, for we have but one "Jewell" and we can ill-afford to allow them to exploit and place at extreme risk, our natural resources.

Keep up the good work OCEANA and supporters because the GOB has already expressed its determination to seek an appeal.



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