BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 17, 2015–The Director of the Geology and Petroleum Department, Andre Cho, confirmed to Amandala this evening that the last two offshore oil contracts, which had been held by Princess Petroleum and Providence Energy, were not extended beyond their expiration date of October 11, 2015, freeing Belize’s marine space from any immediate prospect of oil exploration.
Amandala has been receiving multiple inquiries about the status of the offshore oil contracts, which had been challenged by Oceana a few years ago. In a Supreme Court suit, Oceana challenged the legality of contracts that had been given to these two companies, as well as Sol Oil, Island Oil, Miles Tropical Energy and PetroBelize Limited.
Five of the six contracts had been granted on the same date, October 12, 2007. The contract for Island Oil, granted back in 2004, was the only exception.
Cho told Amandala today that currently, there is no company with an offshore exploration license for drilling in Belize.
Roughly two weeks ago, the Government of Belize issued a statement announcing its decision to impose a permanent legal ban on offshore oil exploration within a kilometer of the Belize Barrier Reef, as well as at 7 locations with World Heritage Site designation, including the Bachalar Chico Marine Reserve, the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, the Blue Hole Natural Monument and Laughing Bird Caye. It also added the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve to the list.
Cho told us that there are a number of remaining onshore petroleum contracts, namely BelGeo, US Capital, BCH/Pacific Rubiales, New World Oil and Gas, Maranco, Perenco and Belize Natural Energy (BNE), which has been producing out of Spanish Lookout and Never Delay. Those are the only active ones, Cho said.
Prior to 2011, there were 18 oil contracts issued, but today, that number is down to 7.
Information published by Cho’s department indicates that the contract for US Capital, which has been exploring in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, is set to expire next month, on January 21, 2016.
With production and revenues from BNE’s fields dwindling, the company as well the Government had expressed high hopes that the Sarstoon area could be the second region to produce a commercial oil find for Belize, but the official information appearing online says that the company is still evaluating its exploration data from Temash #2.
The contract for Perenco, which is due to expire in 2020, is the most recent, having been inked in May 2012. Companies are usually given 8 years to conduct exploration, but if they find oil within that period, they get a 25-year timeline for production, as was the case with BNE.
We asked whether the Government of Belize has granted any extensions or revisions to those existing contracts, and Cho said yes: Both New World and BelGeo got extensions in October for a year, he indicated.
The Geology and Petroleum Department, meanwhile, is continuing its work with stakeholders in developing a complete zoning scheme for petroleum exploration in Belize.