Guyana zeroes in on oil spill readiness

Stakeholders involved in the Oil Spill Contingency Workshop underway at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre. In photo is Director General of the CDC, Lt Col. Kester Craig [fourth from right] and Director of the Department of Energy, Dr. Mark Bynoe [fourth from left] [Delano Williams photo]

…CDC says National Oil Spill Contingency Plan to be completed before year-end

STAKEHOLDERS within the local energy sector are working to advance Guyana’s oil spill readiness through the creation of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, as the country prepares to become an oil-producing nation next year.

On Monday, a three-day workshop was opened at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre that focuses on contingency planning and implementation of the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC Convention). Here, stakeholders from the Departments of Energy and the Environment; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs); the Civil Defence Commission (CDC); inter alia will be working on refining the draft of the contingency plan and engage in capacity-building in this area.

“Evidently, as Guyana advances to becoming an oil-producing country, the risk of an oil spill is very likely,” Director-General (ag) of the CDC, Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig, said at the opening of the workshop. The director-general shared that it is the vision of the CDC to coordinate and facilitate a sustainable disaster risk management system for Guyana that is primarily aimed at reducing risks and enhancing the country’s resilience to the impact of both natural and man-made hazards.

“What we have recognised is that this vision cannot be attained with a business as usual approach, as such, we have to be dynamic and take into consideration the new and dynamic hazards that are likely to affect our country,” he said. And the workshop, which aims to advance the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, has been crafted in recognition that this plan is in itself an effort of disaster reduction and management, according to Craig.

“The contingency plan is intended to mitigate both direct and indirect impacts of oil spills, which may occur on our environment,” he highlighted. Director of the Department of Energy, Dr. Mark Bynoe also related: “We are cognisant that additional capacities are needed as we hasten towards first oil. This workshop is testimony to the efforts being made to build a more robust sectoral framework.”

The workshop is being held in conjunction with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO); the United Nations Regional Coordinating Unit for the Caribbean Environment Program UNEP-CAR/RCU; and the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency, Information and Training Centre (RAC/REMPEITC) – Caribe. “Having a well-defined plan is key to an effective response, and over the next few days we will go over the steps to take to develop and revise such a plan,” workshop facilitator, Matt Richards highlighted.

Importantly, according to him, is that Guyana has made significant strides in its preparation over the past few years; this includes displaying a dedication to protecting the environment while undertaking responsible resources extraction

The CDC director-general further opined that the presence of the stakeholders at the workshop is an indication that there is the highest level of commitment to show that the development of this sector is one which must be achieved strategically, and cooperatively. At present, he shared that there is a “working draft” of the national contingency plan which has received input from the local stakeholders. This draft includes, mainly, the key roles and responsibilities of all the stakeholders and also a structure which can be further enhanced to deal with oil spills – both onshore and offshore.

“The efforts of these agencies have better positioned the country to finalise our national oil spill plan before the end of this year, and ensure full implementation by the time oil production commences in 2020,” Craig underscored. Dr. Bynoe also related that subsequent to the Liza discovery in 2015 and the impending oil production, a need was recognised for the development of this contingency plan.

He explained that even though the government has emphasised prevention as the key in oil spill related activity; there is need for Guyana to safeguard against any mishap. “We are aware, however that … accidents do occur and the Cooperative Republic of Guyana has to be prepared for all eventualities,” Bynoe stressed, while adding that this would involve a tiered response to mitigate risks, inclusive of working closer with the operators and contractors, and ensuring that adequate risk transfer methods are in place.

The director also indicated that it is essential for wells to be properly designed, for there to be established procedures and protocols which are developed and followed, equipment is regularly inspected, and training and safety become integrated in all sections of the operators’ modus operandi. These are standard procedures geared at safeguarding against accidents. Let there be no illusions however,” he said, “A zero-risk environment is not practical.”

This plan, of which various drafts have been completed, is expected to become Guyana’s blueprint at the various scenarios of what can occur, according to Bynoe. It is expected that the final document will look at the various possibilities and must, at the minimum, contain: hazard identification; a vulnerability assessment; risk assessment; adequate response methods; and the application of technology.

Prior to the formation of the Department of Energy, the Ministry of Natural Resources had purchased oil spill response equipment for use in training and in responding, should the need arises, to small oil spills in Tier One instances. According to a document: Trinidad’s Oil Spill Contingency Plan, published by the Ministry of Energy and Energy Investments in that country, Tier One Spills are oil spills where in-house response capability is adequate. The impacts of these are low and in-house clean-up response is mandated.