AS discussed in last week’s column, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been holding scoping meetings to help provide the public with a platform to share their concerns and provide inputs on what should be evaluated by the upcoming Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed gas-to-power project. These meetings are part of the larger ongoing process of feasibility studies, site evaluations, approvals, and planning before the project moves toward actual construction.
Many voices in the media and at these meetings have raised valid concerns and important questions that should be answered before any construction begins. But, while it can be frustrating that many of these questions do not yet have answers, it’s unfortunately a natural part of being very early on in a long and complex process.
Despite initial planning by the government and ExxonMobil, no final investment decision (FID) has yet been made and no ground has been broken for the gas-to-power project, or the pipeline that will provide the gas from the Stabroek Block offshore. Although the rhetoric sometimes suggests otherwise, the project still has many steps ahead of it.
Guyana is still in the assessment stage of the process and will continue to explore potential impacts, benefits and the project’s feasibility. By holding scoping meetings, the government is providing a space for transparency, but it can only share information that already exists.
Crucial steps are still needed before final investment decisions are made to ensure alignment on environmental impacts, engineering plans and costs, each of which need to be studied more in depth. While it is understandable that Guyanese are eager to hear more details about specifics, this process cannot be rushed.
Public funds can’t be invested into expensive steps such as contracting engineering firms to draw up plans, modelling scenarios and providing cost estimates until the public has been consulted and is given an opportunity to say what they would like to be part of the environmental impact assessment. While the process may seem to move slowly, gas-to-power development is a complex, methodical process which requires patience to ensure that public consultation is considered at every stage of the process.
What we know so far is this: discussions on the possibility of a gas-to-power project began soon after oil was first found, but these discussions have recently progressed to the point where a pipeline impact assessment is appropriate.
The government has carried out a number of feasibility studies, available online through government websites, to choose the location of the onshore gas-to-power plant and the landing point for an underwater pipeline that will deliver associated gas from two floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels.
After looking at seven possible locations, the industrial zone at Wales was chosen as the most feasible location. The Wales location previously housed industrial activity for sugar production and can be transitioned into a multifaceted industrial complex.
As the consultations and project summary have outlined, Wales will house a Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) processing plant that will separate associated gas found offshore into usable products and a power plant that can generate cheaper, more reliable electricity. According to the government, the overall development is also expected to create over 3,000 jobs for Guyanese.
This industrial complex, as well as the new supply of gas, should provide space for additional industrial production of fertilisers, plastics, chemicals, and other products that rely on natural gas by-products, according to the Petroleum Economist at the Ministry of Natural Resources. The government is also discussing complementary projects such as an agricultural processing plant that could take advantage of existing sugar infrastructure. These spin-off industries, also supported by cheaper energy, could support further economic development and activity.
Government feasibility studies have also evaluated changes in electricity costs and availability once the plant is installed. According to these studies, the project is not only expected to cut electricity costs by half, but should also provide homes and businesses with more reliable electricity.
But although excitement is running high, it’s crucial to step back and realise that Guyana is very early in a long process. Continued engagement with the public and a commitment to transparency will be critical to ensure that the project meets the needs of Guyanese. The government hopes to see this project completed within a few years, but much still needs to be done in the meantime to ensure that the right questions are asked and answered.