Features — 21 May 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Oceana protests Treaty move to continue drilling in Southern Belize

Oceana Belize announced today (Friday) that they have been able to confirm that Treaty Energy Limited, joint venture partner of Princess Petroleum, has resumed drilling in southern Belize – a move which the organization says violates a recent ruling by the Supreme Court.

“The court ruling was clear that the contract of Princess Petroleum, which has a joint venture with Treaty Energy, is ‘unlawful, null and void,’ and thus it stands that by extension, any work Treaty does under the umbrella of Princess is unlawful and a violation of the declaration made by Justice Oswell Legall,” Oceana said.

In a statement issued on May 6, 2013, Treaty had said that, “Due to the Supreme Court ruling, Treaty Belize Energy temporarily suspended its drilling efforts on the San Juan #3. Treaty wanted to consult with its legal counsel in Belize and wait for the Government of Belize to issue a statement. On May 5, 2013, Prime Minister Barrow made statements to local media regarding the Supreme Court ruling. Based on the legal opinion Treaty Energy received from Princess Petroleum’s legal counsel and the statement made by Prime Minister Barrow, Treaty has made the decision to recommence drilling of the San Juan #3 well.”

Vice President of Oceana in Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, said that, “It must be noted that under our system of law, the courts and spirit of the law expect governments to be gentlemen and abide by pronouncement made in any court declaration based on the fact that our governments are constitutionally formed and thus the guardian of the principle of ‘Rule of LAW’ – which is the basis of the Constitution.”

Oceana emphasizes that the court, as “an extra precaution” had also issued an injunction, stopping the Government from implementing or allowing any oil company from implementing any of the provisions of the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA), which are the contracts signed between the company and the government.

“However, instead of stopping the oil companies from proceeding and ensuring that Government’s disagreement with the ruling be settled in the Court of Appeal, the Prime Minister, in his press conference of April 29, 2013, rather than calling on all oil companies to respect the ruling, abdicated his responsibility and announced that it was ‘for the concession holder to determine whether it will proceed with whatever activity it was doing under the PSA.’ This clearly is not what is expected of a responsible democratic government, otherwise it signals that all can go about doing as they please and breaching any of the country’s laws, especially if they are liked by the government of the day,” Matura-Shepherd added.

Barrow had confirmed that the Government had moved to appeal the April 16, 2013 decision of Justice Legall, in which the judge declared six offshore petroleum concessions to be “unlawful, null and void.”

“I’ve seen our grounds of appeal and I believe that the lawyers described that as an aberrant ruling on the part of the judge, and I completely and unreservedly endorse that,” Barrow told the media.

The judge’s decision indicated that not only were the Laws of Belize breached in granting petroleum contracts to companies that did not meet the legal qualifications, but also that no Environmental Impact Assessment was conducted before the PSAs or concessions were granted – a practice which the judge said is contrary to law.

Responding to the judge’s ruling, Barrow expressed the view that “the judge went egregiously wrong” when he conflated the application for a production sharing agreement (PSA) with a contract.

Oceana Belize informed that the Government has applied for a stay of execution of the injunction issued by Justice Legall, so that Treaty and Providence can continue to drill and the government can continue to do its part to facilitate their work.

“This move by the Government is at the request of Princess’ Executive Director stated in a letter written to the Prime Minister, and not the Minister of Energy, who is now responsible for the oil industry,” Oceana added.

That hearing is slated for Tuesday, May 28, 2013, before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.

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