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From all indications the Government is ploughing ahead with the oil-to-shore project at the closed Wales Estate. The confirmation came last week from Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat who said construction will start this year. This project has dire implications for the environment, marine life, cost/benefit practicality, and residents in the West Bank of Demerara if not properly executed or the site not properly located.
There are reasons to fear this could happen because the government has not provided evidence a feasibility (Environmental Impact Assessment) study was done, who did the study, and what the study says. People are left guessing if any was done and the likely impact, for they are bound to be, and the plans in place by the government to mitigate these. There is also doubt if the input of the residents of Wales and the surrounding communities was sought. At least this publication is unaware.
What is interesting is the silence of noted Guyanese who profess to be environmentalists. It is not unreasonable to expect the outspokenness they demonstrated on the handling of the industry during the previous government would have seen continuation during this government. The partisan politics aside, others should join the calls to have the study, if any, released now. There is also the need for consensus among the people. Lessons of the past cannot be forgotten. One such is the USD$250 plus million Skeldon Project which became a white elephant.
There is history with the government not doing feasibility studies, ignoring studies and often does not care what society has to say. In the new industry where many are still to fully understand its intricacies and nuances, the sense is given that the government is capitalising on these deficiencies to plough ahead. Partisan petty politics is also a factor.
Guyana is a minefield of perennial political conflicts and ethnic divisions which government and special interests always exploit to their advantage. Those who speak will find acceptance or rejection based on their perceived political loyalty. The government is too playing on the political emotions of their supporters that they are creating jobs for them. Unfortunately, where this may be the only thing that matters, not the environment, the government will be given the support to plough ahead with the project, regardless of.
Former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Vincent Adams, was quoted in Stabroek News of Jan 24,2021 expressing support for the project but saying clearly that it has to be done “right.” He made known that while his first choice is always renewables, he would “fully support the gas-to-shore once the cost analysis proves feasible to taxpayers and there is no harm to the environment or safety is compromised.” These are not known and the government seems unwilling to make them known.
Dr. Adams, who has a PhD in Environmental Engineering and worked at top level in the United States Department of Energy, said conditionalities must be met to ensure the project is worthwhile. He noted there is the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment because “It’s not only about the pipeline but also the onshore operations to refine and distribute the gas which poses high risk to the air, water, and soil, and must be mitigated in the plan.”
The scientist further cautioned that before proceeding it is important to understand “the risk of seismic activities such as earthquakes, ocean floor mudslides, and volcanoes, which could rupture the pipeline and cause an ecological disaster and threat to the fishing industry.” Despite the intellectual and practicing heft Dr. Adams brings to the industry there is fear his wisdom will be discarded because he was employed by the previous administration. This is the reality of Guyana’s politics and the leeway the government could use to justify ignoring his advice.
There is fear the construction of the project will proceed unless more voices are raised, particularly those supporting the government and were vocal during the previous government. Guyana would be counting on them to ensure a study is done or if one exists to make sure it is made public before construction gets underway.