Examining the plans in place for a possible spill
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TODAY, oil spills, particularly large spills, are extremely unlikely, as technologies that prevent spills have evolved and improved significantly over the last few decades. But it’s still critical that Guyana be as prepared as possible as it expands its role as a major new oil producer. Last week this column discussed many of the technologies that have made spill response faster and more effective over the past few decades.

It’s equally important to have a clear response plan and a government prepared to implement it effectively and quickly. Over the last few years, Guyana has been working to put in place a comprehensive oil spill response strategy. In early January, the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) announced that it had officially operationalised the National Oil Spill Response Plan, taking an initial step towards satisfying critics concerned about a perceived lack of preparedness.

Since that time, the government’s role in rapidly responding to any accident has become much clearer. While it is the responsibility of all parties involved to take part in containment and cleanup efforts, the government takes many of the initial first steps in the event of a spill. In Guyana, the National Oil Spill Committee (NOCS) supports contingency planning and leads the policy direction of the management of oil spill events, similar to the Coast Guard in the U.S. When Guyana began contingency planning before first oil, the government received technical support provided by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Guyana’s first oil spill response plan was developed by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and was later updated by the Maritime Administrative Department to mirror international standards. In 2018, nearly two years before first oil, the National Oil Spill Planning Committee took the first step of formalising the response plan. The government also carried out a workshop to improve awareness of the planning and response process. In addition to the NOCS, the Maritime Administrative Department and the Guyana Energy Agency both have responsibilities in coordinating response in the event of a spill.

In 2019, the government worked with Stabroek Block operator, ExxonMobil, to hold another oil spill response training to ensure that all parties involved are ready to act in emergency situations. In terms of equipment, Guyana now has four large response kits available in the event of a spill, including skimmers, booms, and dispersants.

Actual response crews are made up of volunteers and government employees. Similar to many global oil producers that use external contractors, Guyana maintains contracts with Gaico Construction Inc, an oil and gas support services company that provides oil spill response, waste management services, and equipment, to support in the event of a spill. Many of Giaco’s teams are staffed by trained locals.

On the regional scale, Guyana is involved in response plans to ensure that oil production emergencies are handled quickly and seamlessly as they impact all countries and territories in the Caribbean area. For over a decade, Guyana has been a member of the Cartagena Convention, which governs cooperation between Guyana and Colombia in the event of a spill. The country is also affiliated with the Operative Network for Regional Cooperation among Maritime Authorities of South America, Mexico, Panama, and Cuba and is part of the Caribbean Island OPRC Plan, which provides a framework for islands to cooperate at an operational level in the event of a spill.

Most recently, Guyana is working with Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname to develop a Technical Working Group to create a clear readiness and response plan in the event of a spill. As both neighbours are significant regional producers, this could be one of the most important developments in scaling up Guyana’s response capabilities. Partnership with Trinidad also offers the opportunity to leverage that country’s significant experience in the sector to help increase Guyana’s own capabilities.

While the government plays a large role in cleanup efforts, operating companies are also heavily involved in contingency and cleanup plans. In Guyana, operating companies are required to have liability coverage, which insures companies in the event of a spill. Companies are generally liable for any accidents and must maintain comprehensive and extensive insurance against any incidents that covers response, clean-up, and remediation efforts.

With continued planning and trainings, Guyana is well on its way to ensuring that, if an oil spill does occur, it will be able to act quickly and effectively to prevent damage to the country’s crucial coastal ecosystems.

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