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—former EPA head says gov’t allowing the company too much leeway to damage environment
By Lisa Hamilton
Instead of charging ExxonMobil only for the future probability of flaring, the oil and gas giant should also be charged for what it has already flared, said former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr. Vincent Adams.
Adams expressed this position on Thursday while a guest on the online programme ‘Politics 101’. He put forward that should the Government make such a decision — which he believes is warranted — Guyana would stand to benefit from as much as GYD$6.2 billion or US $30M approximately.
In May 2021, the EPA announced that it had recalled and modified the Environmental Permit for the Liza 1 Development Project to include specific regulatory requirements for the flaring of associated gas offshore Guyana. As a result, in accordance with the EPA’s legislation, ExxonMobil will have to pay US$30 per tonne of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (CO2e) excess emission effective May 13, 2021.
The EPA had pointed out that ExxonMobil’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), is projected to exceed the 14 Billion Standard Cubic Feet (Bcf) of gas previously estimated to be flared by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project and therefore, such stringent measures were necessary.
However, Dr. Adams said not stringent enough. He said that the modified permit allows for flaring for up to 60 days upon startup and 14 days under special circumstances (maintenance and emergency) which provide leeway for Exxon to flare as much as it pleases within the period without penalty.
“We’re never going to get any money above that 60 days because now they’re gonna make sure they repair the equipment, they’re going to flare up to 60 days and we’re not going to get any money. If the Government is serious, let’s put that US$30 per tonne against the 14 billion cubic feet that they’ve already flared illegally. Let’s do that…that would add up to around US $30M,” he approximated.
The oil and gas company has been flaring at above start-up levels offshore Guyana since the malfunctioning of its third stage flash gas compression system and its discharge silencer. Earlier in June, the Company updated that it hoped to complete reinstallation and startup of the flash gas compressor later this month.
In the meanwhile, flare levels were reported to be at or below 15 million standard cubic feet per day (mscfd). This is even as ExxonMobil has well-publicized 2025 targets regarding greenhouse gas reduction which include dropping upstream emissions intensity between 15 to 20 percent; ensuring methane intensity declines by 40 to 50 percent; ensuring flaring intensity falls by 35 to 45 percent and ensuring routine flaring is eliminated by 2030.
Dr. Adams said that he has constantly asked the question why — though ExxonMobil has operations and FPSOs around the world — Guyana has been the country in which so many malfunctions have happened aboard the LIZA Destiny FPSO leading to flaring.
“This is not the only ship that Exxon has operating throughout the world, they’re operating all around the world. The big question is why is it only happening in Guyana. That’s the million-dollar question,” he said.
“In my opinion, I believe it’s because we’re not holding them accountable…with the US Government, the first thing we would do is shut you down until there’s an investigation which finds out what’s the root cause, and there’s a solution for it and you fix the problem. Money was never the reason for you to continue to operate.”
Furthermore, Dr. Adams added that because of the US$30 per tonne penalty which only applies after the start-up phase, the oil company can misuse the polluter pays principle. The polluter pays principle states that the polluter should bear the expenses of pollution and should pay for any damage done to the natural environment.
With a 60-day leeway period as opposed to a 2-day period as applied to start-up in countries like the United States, the Former EPA Head said that ExxonMobil is instead getting the message that it can do as it pleases within the lengthy period or simply pay to continue damaging the environment.
He said: “That’s also a misrepresentation of the polluter pays principle. What they’re saying is that it’s okay for somebody to pollute the environment as long as they pay for it. That’s never the intent of the polluter pays principle…the polluter pays principle is not to pollute the environment for as much as you want and as long as you can afford it.”