The government of Guyana is being taken to court by two citizens who are seeking ExxonMobil and other major oil companies to end offshore drilling, which will exacerbate the climate crisis.
The case has been brought by Quadad de Freitas, a 21-year-old indigenous tour guide from the Rupununi region, and Dr. Troy Thomas, a university professor and former president of the anti-corruption organization Transparency Institute Guyana.
They claim that Guyana’s approval of oil exploration licenses violates the government’s legal duty to protect its right and the right of future generations to a healthy environment. It is the first constitutional climate case in the Caribbean to challenge fossil fuel production on climate and human rights grounds.
The discovery of oil and subsequent production-sharing agreements with some of the world’s largest fossil fuel firms have been politically explosive in the small South American country, where about two fifths of the population they live below the poverty line of US $ 5.50 per day.
The multi-million dollar Stabroek exploration block off the coast of Guyana is a joint venture between oil companies ExxonMobil, Hess Corporation and a subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Company. ExxonMobil estimates that at least 8 billion barrels of crude oil are under the sea, as well as trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
The block is ExxonMobil’s largest oil development outside of the Permian Basin of the U.S. The company began producing oil from the first stage of the deepwater project, called Liza-1, in late 2019 and expects to start Liza. -2 in early 2022. He approved the investment in a third project, Payara, last year and is looking for more future.
Guyanese activists had previously questioned the government’s approval of the drilling licenses on the grounds that only one of the joint venture partners had an environmental permit. The judge ruled against the activists and that case is in the Guyana court of appeal.
A second case challenging the duration of the environmental permits granted for the first two exploration projects was successful. These will no longer expire in 2040 but in 2021, so ExxonMobil will have to reapply for a permit in the next month.
The activists want the court to declare that the government’s constitutional duties require it to stop authorizing activities that would significantly contribute to climate change, ocean acidification, and / or sea level rise. They say that 92 million tons of greenhouse gases will be emitted directly during the operation of the first three projects, and many more when the extracted fuels are burned.
“This is a classic public interest case,” said attorney Melinda Janki, who represents the plaintiffs in court. “In 2001-02, I put a lot of pressure on the government of Guyana to include the right to a healthy environment in the constitution. It is in everyone’s interest to know what the law means, if this oil production amounts to a violation of the right to a healthy environment. Then it will be up to the government to decide what actions to take ”.
Janki emphasized that Guyana was extremely vulnerable to climate change. Its capital, Georgetown, is below sea level and fishing is key to the livelihoods of many people.
Last year, the UN Human Rights Committee the Guyanese authorities asked to respond to concerns that large-scale oil extraction significantly increases greenhouse gas emissions and adversely affects the most vulnerable groups.
Janki said there had been great pressure on Guyana to produce oil along with a narrative that it would bring the country great wealth, “which is not borne out by the facts.”
You end up with a huge disparity between rich and poor, massive environmental destruction, gross human rights abuses. You just have to look at Venezuela to the side to see what happens ”.
Despite pledging not to directly finance fossil fuel extraction, the World Bank has long facilitated Guyana’s entry into the world of oil exports. He helped the country draft oil legislation in the 1980s, long before any reserves were discovered, and more recently paid to have those laws rewritten by a law firm that worked regularly for ExxonMobil.
Guyana is a carbon sink and has committed to being 100% renewable under the Paris agreement, provided funds are available.
“There is absolutely no reason why you should now be trying to produce oil at a time when everyone is moving away from fossil fuels,” Janki said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism