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Does GoB want to drill offshore?

HeadlineDoes GoB want to drill offshore?

Oceana Belize has launched a petition drive to compel the government to conduct a referendum on any decision relating to offshore oil-exploration activity, including seismic testing! 

By Marco Lopez

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 17, 2022

Oceana Belize has confirmed that the government has the intention to engage in seismic testing. This is according to Vice President of Oceana Belize, Janelle Chanona, who made the announcement today at a press conference, where she also stated that the organization will be conducting a petition drive geared toward getting signatures to compel the government to carry out a referendum before making any decision relating to offshore oil-exploration without the people’s consent.

“As we have maintained throughout our work in Belize, the only reason to conduct seismic testing is to proceed to offshore oil exploration. We are therefore announcing today that we are launching a signature-collecting drive,” Chanona said.

Petitions will be distributed to registered voters nationwide. They will be asked to indicate their support for efforts to ensure that a  “referendum mechanism be enshrined into law that says before anything happens in so far as exploration or exploitation or anything offshore oil-related that there should be a referendum and that those results should guide what happens next.” Chanona explained.

Oceana was granted a meeting with Prime Minister John Briceno on September 9, said Chanona, and she noted that they went there to have talks focused on strengthening the existing offshore oil moratorium. Instead, she said, the PM informed her that they had the intention to conduct seismic testing.

“It was during that conversation that he told us that he would like to proceed with seismic and at our urging that that be put to the Belizean people before any seismic work was done, I said we had an agreement to disagree at that point at the timing of when that conversation with the public would be held,” Chanona revealed.

On October 31, the Ministry of the Blue Economy launched Belize’s first Blue Economy Development, Policy and Strategy (BEDPS) and the first Belize Maritime Economy Plan (MEP) in San Pedro. Chanona pointed out that during that launch ceremony it was “confirmed publicly that under emerging sectors Belize would be looking to conduct research and other related activity into deep and ultra-deep oil and gas and sea bed mining.”   Such a decision, Chanona noted, was made despite a February 2012  initiative dubbed “The People’s Referendum”, in which over 30,000  Belizeans participated — with more than 96% voting against offshore oil activity.  

That referendum was not official. This time around, Oceana will be collecting signatures to ensure that any decision related to offshore oil exploration takes place only after a referendum has been conducted.  She stated that her reason for coming forward is to ensure that all Belizean citizens are informed of the plans related to the marine ecosystem. 

“I will tell you that I am relieved to be here sharing this information finally, not just because I believe in transparency, but because it has been a weight on me, to know that this is what is being thought about and being planned and not being able to come to the Belizean people until now, and I think it is so important that all of us are aware at the same time, and I think that is really what underscores all of this. This should not catch us all by surprise.” Chanona said.

Those who thought the signing of the Blue Bond would mean the end of any prospect of offshore drilling were probably also shocked by Chanona’s revelation that the government, in negotiating the Blue Bond agreement, viewed a permanent moratorium on offshore exploration as a deal breaker, and it was thus removed from the agreement. 

“We can’t fight climate change and then turn around with the other hand or in the other breath and say, ‘but we want to contribute by engaging in offshore oil development’. The fact of the matter is that since becoming aware of the government’s plans or preferences, I’ve been told that as a part of the Blue Bond negotiations that it was put forward in the Conservation List, the moratorium is made into a permanent ban, and that that was a deal breaker for the government,” Chanona said.  

The question being put to Belizeans is as follows: 

“Do you support a legislative ban by way of an amendment to the Belize Constitution, Chapter 4 of the Laws of Belize, which will prohibit offshore petroleum and natural gas exploration (including but not limited to seismic testing, seismic surveys, multibeam surveys), development, drilling, extraction, production, storage and disposal within the internal waters, territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone of Belize (“petroleum operations”), unless a referendum is held in accordance with the Referendum Act, Chapter 10 of the Laws of Belize which approves such petroleum operations?“

The petition drive officially began yesterday. Belizean citizens interested in signing can contact Oceana via its social media platforms or at phone number 610 -0952. 

A press release issued by the government this evening states the following:

“Having regard to the press conference held by Oceana today, November 17, 2022, the Government of Belize hereby clarifies that it has not entered into any agreements for seismic studies nor for oil exploration in offshore areas. The Government of Belize has made unprecedented progress in positioning its natural capital in its overall vision for the economic recovery and growth of our country. Consistent with Plan Belize, and its mandate to ensure the responsible use of its natural capital to realize its economic, social and environmental goals, the government will continue to approach its natural capital resources in a responsible and wise manner. 

“In the meeting held on September 9, 2022, the Prime Minister, among other matters, did discuss the issue of seismic surveys and the existing moratorium with Oceana.  In pursuance of his commitment to environmental and social principles, the Prime Minister reiterated the need to understand the extent of Belize’s offshore non-renewable economic resources in order to have an informed strategy on their potential for leveraging, given the national direction towards decarbonization and nature-based economy.  Furthermore, the government’s commitment to allow the determination of such an important policy to be people-centered was restated by the Prime Minister.

“The statements by Oceana at the press conference today are regrettable especially given its accessibility to this administration’s offices at the highest level for open and transparent discourse to have a clear and unified approach to this issue and all matters of mutual and national interest.”

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