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US Capital to begin seismic testing shortly

GeneralUS Capital to begin seismic testing shortly

Photo: Hon. Cordel Hyde and US Capital’s Alistair King sign
consent agreement

Consultant says, “The project is about to start”

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Feb. 16, 2024

After several delays, US Capital Energy Belize, Ltd., a wholly owned Belizean subsidiary of U.S. oil company, US Capital Energy, Inc., says it will soon start a second round of oil exploration in Toledo. 

A first round in 2014 some 800 meters inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STMP) with an investment of about BZ $100 million yielded no favourable results, and getting to drilling stage was not easy. The company had to contend with demonstrations and lawsuits over a lack of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the buffer communities of the STMP.

Believing that oil is in the ground in Toledo, US Capital is pursuing further exploration, and applied to the Government for another Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) for a smaller concession area than before. US Capital’s Country Representative, Alistair King said in 2018 that the knowledge and information they obtained in their last seismic and drilling exercise led them to believe that “there is a good chance that the oil is somewhere else, somewhere else close.” He remarked that no one will make multi-million-dollar investments “unless they feel there is going to be something there.”

In January 2020, the Department of the Environment (DOE) notified US Capital that it had been granted environmental clearance to conduct petroleum exploration activities within Block 19 Concession Area, Toledo District.

Consultations with the communities had to be conducted, as per the court’s mandate, prior to the government issuing a PSA. With the change of Government in November 2020, consultations were held anew using a new FPIC protocol drafted and submitted to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) under the Briceño Administration. Those consultations were drawn out because the consultation processes themselves have been extensive.

A first four communities signed a consent agreement with US Capital and the Government (Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs) over the weekend of October 8 and 9 last year in Toledo. They were: San Felipe, Crique Sarco, Boom Creek and Midway. Sunday Wood signed a consent agreement on October 27, 2023 at Pelican Beach Resort in Dangriga. Left to sign at the time were Conejo and Santa Ana. Fast forward a few months, to today, February, 16, Conejo formally gave its consent at a brief signing ceremony at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel in Belize City.

At the signing ceremony for the four initial villages, Hon. Oscar Requena, Area Representative for Toledo West, commented, “Just the process of going through the seismic testing is going to create employment opportunities and economic opportunities for many of these communities who don’t have employment.” Prime Minister John Briceño also said at the time “… now US Capital can start its work to be able to do the seismic testing which would hire probably a hundred or more people to work …”

At previous signing ceremonies, Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Cordel Hyde commented that the BNE field ”… ended up fetching the government $600 million in revenue.” He said the benefits of finding black gold in Toledo can yield significant revenue which, if applied properly, would lead to some real development for some areas of Belize that have been left behind for too long.

Today, Daniel Gutierrez, a consultant for US Capital, told Amandala that now that 6 of the 7 villages have signed, “the project is about to start.” According to Gutierrez, “the communities have been clamoring to get the project going because they understand very clearly that this means jobs for them, for their families.” As to what the works will entail, he said, preliminarily, it means seismic acquisition using sound waves to explore the sub surface of the earth. That requires drilling a 20-inch hole in the ground going down to about 2,000 feet deep. The company seeks to construct three exploration wells “to prove commercial oil and gas.” If the company strikes oil, Gutierrez says, “Once that happens, then we go into post exploration, which is more of a production process, and that is very different, and we have to enter into negotiations with the communities anew.” Gutierrez commented that they believe “there is a greater reserve of oil and gas in Belize. We think that it is more than just the Spanish Lookout and Never Delay oil fields … There have been several oil fields found across the border in Guatemala, and natural geology knows no manmade borders. So, there is every reason to think that this should continue into Belize.”

As to the commitments to the villages, Gutierrez says their undertaking is to “respect their culture … and only work in their communities in the ways they see fit.”
Asked how much the Government is looking forward for seismic testing to get underway, Minister Hyde responded that “… there were people in the Government who were pretty excited in the beginning but, because the process took this long, the excitement has kinda worn off.” He explained that the FPIC process started in 2022 and took some time because they ensured that the communities asked all the questions they needed to until they were comfortable to do so. Looking forward, Hyde said that if oil is found, the great challenge will be to ensure that it’s not a great curse as it has been elsewhere in the world. He affirmed, “That’s the sacrosanct duty and responsibility that we have, to ensure that once oil is discovered, that it’s not just a handful of people that really win, but that the entirety of this nation, the people of the south in particular, but the people of the country in general benefit from this.” Hyde added that, going forward, the cooperation will have to be enhanced. The consent agreement includes monitoring teams with participation from villagers and authorities.

Conejo Chairperson, Santiago Coy told Amandala, ”This will be for the future generations, not for me.”

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