General — 25 October 2017 — by Adele Ramos
Legislation for indefinite moratorium on offshore drilling finally tabled in Parliament

Opponents to offshore drilling contend that it would threaten the Belize Barrier Reef as well as the livelihoods of Belizeans in the tourism and fisheries sectors who depend on those resources

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 23, 2017–At the August 18th sitting of the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow officially announced a decision by Cabinet to legislate an indefinite moratorium on offshore oil exploration in Belize’s territorial sea, including the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and on Friday, October 20, that legislation was tabled in the House.

In presenting the bill, Erwin Contreras, Minister responsible for Petroleum, said that it provides for “…a moratorium on the exploration for petroleum and other petroleum operations in the maritime zone of Belize, to prevent pollution from installation devices and vessels used in the exploration or exploitation of petroleum resources of the sea bed and subsoil of the maritime zone; to accordingly make further provisions for the protection of the Belize Barrier Reef system and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

He noted that the bill, which affixes no time limit for the moratorium, has the recommendation of the Cabinet.

In presenting the bill in August, Barrow said that the current administration had made an official policy decision to abstain from oil exploration in our territorial sea and EEZ and the move to enshrine that policy in legislation was a consequence of conversations with Oceana and The Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage.

In responding to today’s development, the Coalition said: “Belize made history today by introducing legislation to enshrine an indefinite moratorium on offshore oil in its marine territory, including territorial seas and Exclusive Economic Zone.”

It added that, “Given Belize’s economic dependence on its natural resources, particularly on globally significant marine assets such as the second longest barrier reef in the world, the legislative move to safeguard these invaluable environments from the inherent dangers of offshore oil is fundamental to the country’s future.”

Five years ago, more than 96% of nearly 30,000 people who voted in an unofficial referendum organized by Oceana and the other members of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage (after a petition for an official referendum was rejected by authorities) voted against offshore drilling.

Oceana’s Vice President for Belize, Janelle Chanona, said that if enacted, this newly presented bill will become ‘The People’s Law,’ since “it recognizes that Belizeans have remained steadfast in their opposition to offshore oil.”

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