T&T conservation group: Oil spill in Guyana could affect Caribbean

Trinidad and Tobago-based conservation group, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) is expressing concern over the risk of a possible oil spill in the waters near CARICOM member state Guyana, saying such a disaster could negatively affect the entire Caribbean region. In a statement, the group said the situation must be urgently addressed via an established regional contingency plan. 

The group referenced a recent oil spill off the coast of Tobago of which the costs, in terms of damages and clean-up efforts, is still being assessed. “While Guyana rushes ahead to advance oil and gas extraction, there is no consideration for the dangers and risks to CARICOM neighbours and the broader Caribbean ecosystem. Any oil spilt in Guyana will flow directly into the CARIBBEAN Sea. Guyana must not be reckless.

“Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), a Trinidad-based fisherfolk organisation, is calling for responsible leadership to safeguard our shared marine environment.”FFOS is calling for immediate action to address the escalating risks posed by Guyana’s haste. Despite repeated warnings about the devastating impact a major oil spill in Guyana would have on 13 CARICOM neighbours, especially Trinidad and Tobago, neither the Guyanese nor Trinidadian Governments have provided any public assurances or guarantees regarding oil spill prevention or mitigation measures.

“In 2018, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the energy sector and cooperation in oil and gas, yet this document was never made public. Who benefits when there is secrecy?”In 2022 a bilateral agreement was signed by The Hon. PM Rowley, yet a lack of transparency has created fear that it did not include any contingency measures for accidents and emergencies!  Again, secrecy in public interest matters creates fear and permits negligence.

“FFOS emphasizes that it is not a question of ‘’if’’ an oil spill will occur, but when.”The group said the effects of a large-scale oil spill would have a long-lasting impact on the Caribbean sea and the economies dependent on it. “Our Caribbean people depend on the sea for food and tourism. A Guyanese spill will wreak havoc and cause an everlasting impact on our shared marine space!

“The recent Tobago oil spill highlighted deficiencies in our National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, with a 5-day delay in initiating the barest of containment measures. Skimmers were not even available, and there will be an everlasting impact on human health and our fishery.  This negligent delay underscores the urgent need for a coordinated regional approach to oil spill emergency response preparedness and management.

“Failure to implement an effective regional contingency plan will have catastrophic consequences, especially for our vulnerable coastal communities.”FFOS is calling on CARICOM Chairman and President of Guyana Dr Irfaan Ali to urgently convene a meeting of CARICOM to discuss several issues, including: 

“1.    The Establishment of a CARICOM Compensation Fund to ensure that adequate resources are readily available for clean-up and rehabilitation efforts in the likely event of an oil spill originating from Guyana or any other member state.

“2.    To Develop a comprehensive Regional Emergency Preparedness Plan, to swiftly respond to oil spill disasters.

“3.    That Guyana share the Exxon $US2 billion emergency fund, to guarantee that affected CARICOM nations will be rehabilitated and compensated.

“FFOS call on each CARICOM leader to fear not and to stand  firm and protect our people. A robust regional oil spill preparedness plan is not an option!”According to the Associated Press, ExxonMobil appealed a recent Guyanese court ruling requiring it to obtain insurance for “unlimited liability” in the event of a major oil spill off the coast of Guyana.

The company said in a statement that the court had failed to consider that Exxon and consortium partners Hess Corp. and China National Overseas Offshore Corporation have the “undoubted ability” to meet their financial obligations in the event of a spill at their operation.The consortium is operating the prolific Stabroek Block near the southeastern border with Suriname.