– Court ‘knocks down’ issuances by Coalition Gov’t
By Navendra Seoraj
THE environmental permits for ExxonMobil’s Liza Phases One and Two developments will now expire years ahead of the initial date of expiration, following an Order issued by the High Court of Guyana early this month.
The Order was issued in a case brought by Guyanese citizen, Dr. Troy Thomas, who filed an action on the grounds that the permit, initially valid for more than 20 years, was issued in clear violation of Guyanese law, which expressly limits environmental permits to no more than five years.
The environmental permit for the Liza Phase One development, which was initially valid until 2040, will now expire on June 1, 2022. And, the environmental permit for Liza Phase Two will expire in 2024 instead of 2043.
The environmental permits for both developments have already been revised to conform to applicable law. ExxonMobil’s Payara environmental permit, which was issued recently after lengthy consultations, is valid for five years, in conformity with the law.
Following initial hearings in the recent case, Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Ltd (an ExxonMobil subsidiary) settled the matter by agreeing to limit the permit to five years, as provided by law.
Attorney-at-Law Melinda Janki, in a press release on Thursday, said this order will allow Guyanese to “correct” the permit for Liza Phase One, which started producing oil in late 2019.
It was reported that the APNU+AFC administration had allowed the company’s Liza Phase One permit to be approved on the same day that the EPA received the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project.
In Guyana’s case, not a single study was done for the Liza Phase One, yet the APNU+AFC administration went full steam ahead with approving the permit for the project on the same day it received the EIA.
Lead Counsel in the High Court case, Seenath Jairam, SC, said: “Coming up against an oil-and-gas giant is always guaranteed to be a battle royal because of their deep pockets and long history in fossil fuels. While the EPA was ably represented, the law is pellucid regarding the duration of an environmental permit, and for good reason.
“Our environment is our most precious resource, and the law makers obviously intended that the EPA should have an opportunity, at regular intervals, to assess the suitability of an operator to continue operations, using international best practices. Dr. Troy Thomas is to be commended and complimented for his conscientiousness and public-spiritedness in drawing attention to these environmental matters.”
According to the press release, Dr. Thomas said: “The Guyanese people have loudly and repeatedly expressed their concern and anger at the danger that ExxonMobil’s oil production poses to Guyana’s environment and natural resources. I want people to know that we can and should take action to protect our national patrimony; we need to come together and safeguard the future for our children.”
ExxonMobil’s environmental performance in Guyana has been questioned in the past, but the early expiry of the permit means Esso will have to apply for another environmental permit in 2022, giving the public an opportunity to demand better terms for Guyana.
The Environmental Protection Act Cap 20:05 guarantees citizens rights to information and participation in the environmental impact assessments that are a pre-condition to environmental permits.
Janki believes that individuals will have to step up and ensure that oil companies are held accountable, once they put Guyana’s biodiversity at risk.