General — 21 March 2014 — by Adele Ramos

The challenge mounted by the indigenous Maya of Toledo against the Government of Belize and US Capital Energy – over plans to drill for oil on ancestral lands amid unresolved legal disputes – has intensified, with a recent move by the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) to get a Supreme Court injunction to stop US Capital from pressing ahead with pre-drilling works at the Temash #2 site in Toledo.

Supported by four affected indigenous communities in Toledo, SATIIM took US Capital and the Government to court last year, challenging the decision by the Government to grant the company a concession to drill on ancestral lands, without getting the informed consent of the Maya who hold traditional land rights in the area; but SATIIM also challenged the decision of the Government to include the Sarstoon Temash National Park in the concession – a decision which the NGO contends is a blatant violation of the National Parks System Act.

SATIIM had initially intended to get a court injunction to stop US Capital from drilling – but it withdrew after indications from US Capital that it would not drill before November 2013.

Arguments in the court case ended in October and the disputing parties were expecting a Supreme Court ruling by then, but the court has yet to issue a decision and SATIIM is now complaining that US Capital is moving ahead with drilling works.

“One would expect that a law-abiding and socially responsible company would suspend its activities out of respect for the Belizean justice system until a judgement was delivered. Not so with US Capital Energy. In fact, they continue to conduct themselves as though there are no claims before the Supreme Court of Belize,” SATIIM said.

Alistair King, US Capital’s representative in Belize, told Amandala today that the company is working on driving piles at Temash #2, where they plan to put an oil rig. The rig should arrive from Guatemala in April, because US Capital intends to start drilling at the site by mid-May.

King confirmed that the company had given an undertaking that they would not drill before November 2013, and later pushed back the date to March 2014.

SATTIM added, though, that US Capital Energy’s legal counsel, Michael Peyrefitte, had written saying: “Needless to say, though there is no injunction in place and your clients abandoned their injunction claims the company will not commence actual drilling unless the court allows it to.”

King maintains, though, that US Capital is not acting illegally by defying the court: “At no time did the court ever tell us to desist – to stop and desist,” he told us.

We asked him why the company is pressing forward with preparatory works, when it does not know what the court will rule.

King said that for every day they have to wait it costs US Capital “a huge sum of money,” but when we asked how much money, he was unable to get into the specifics.

He informed us, though, that since the start of operations in Belize, US Capital has spent US$23 mil and they have not yet drilled a hole. The costliest parts of the project have been the seismic work and the construction and maintenance of roads, King said.

King told us today that a team of Government officials, including representatives of the Department of Environment, the Geology and Petroleum Department and the Forestry Department are due on-site today for a regular monitoring visit.

“They come on a regular basis,” King told us.

SATIIM said that, “US Capital Energy, most likely with the blessing of the Government of Belize, has been working around the clock engaging in pre-drilling activities, which are part-and-parcel of exploratory drilling operations.”

Temash #1 was drilled by Esso back in 1976, but it was dry. King said that the company is working at Temash #2, which is 110 meters by 110 meters in surface area.

US Capital’s counterpart operation in Guatemala is drilling for oil in the Rio Dulce area, 20 miles away from the Temash site, he told us.

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