Georgetown, Guyana – (March 28, 2018) As Government moves to build and strengthen its capacity to deal with the potential hazards that come with the development of an oil and gas sector, Minister of Natural Resources, Mr. Raphael Trotman, today, said that no effort will be spared to ensure that Guyana puts a sound disaster risk reduction and management system in place so that it is prepared to prevent an oil spill, or respond effectively should there be an accident in that regard. The Minister added that the engagement and involvement of every stakeholder is critical to the drafting of a comprehensive National Oil Spill Response Contingency Plan.

The Natural Resources Minister was speaking at the opening of the first of a series of national consultations to be held on the drafting of the National Oil Spill Response Contingency Plan at the Civil Defence Commission’s (CDC) headquarters this morning. He said that this area is high priority for Guyanese and, therefore, every effort should be made to draft the most comprehensive plan properly.

“These are the jeopardies and these are the perils that we have to prepare for. We should not take them for granted or believe that we are dealing with something that is so far removed from our consciousness or our reality that we don’t have to be prepared. It has to be taken seriously and whilst the industry standards are very high, we do have a risk. We recognise that there is a risk. However, Government is making every effort to prepare for that risk. We expect that in 24 months when we go to production in the first quarter of 2020, we will meet not only minimum standards expected, but we will go past that and dare to say to ourselves and particularly to the world that we are ready for any eventuality,” he said.

Minister Trotman noted that with every new find, the importance of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan grows exponentially as it will not only deal with the development of the oil wells being drilled by ExxonMobil but the other wells that come in tandem with it. He said that while the Government recognises the potential risks, which come with developing this new found petroleum resource, it remains equally committed to the protection of the environment and Guyana continues to be a fierce proponent for its protection internationally.

“We are going to, over the next 24 months, develop that plan and put it in place and we are not doing so in isolation of the world and in isolation of the region. We’re going to be working with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, there is a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that is being circulated within the different Ministries to take care of that. We are also working with the United States Coast Guard. Training has already commenced and we have had people trained already in the US and elsewhere and the process is continuing,” he said.

The Minister said that while Guyana has already signed on to various Conventions, including the United Nations International Maritime Organisation (UNIMO) and the International Maritime Organisation’s International Convention, there is a need now for the country to put that signature into actual and practical use. It is the stakeholders, he said, who will take this forward.

“We have good men and women in this country, who can do and who have been doing and who continue to do and we have got to stop doubting ourselves that we are incapable. Lesser countries than ours have done this and we are going to do it as well. One feature of our Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) is to make sure that we take care of the environment. We are going to be putting a percentage of all that we earn into the Environmental Trust Fund, which already exists under the Environmental Protection Act and we are going to ensure that every caution is exercised in ensuring not only do we never have an accident but in the event of an accident, that it is contained and curtailed at the fastest time,” Minister Trotman said.

With the lead agency tasked with completing the processing of a comprehensive National Oil Spill Contingency Plan being the CDC, Minister Trotman said that already, the Ministry of Natural Resources has been working with the Commission over the last 18 months to ensure that appropriate systems are being put in place. “Stakeholder involvement on all levels is critical to the development of a robust plan that can hold its own internationally and protect our country in the event of an oil spill. I am happy to see that the CDC has taken a truly collaborative approach to the development of the plan by involving agencies such as the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Guyana Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration. As you begin your consultations, I charge you to see your work as important and chart a plan that can efficiently keep our coastland free from pollution and preserved for the future generations,” he said.

Acting Director General of the CDC, Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig said that even as the country recognises the voluminous natural resources it possesses, which can contribute significantly to positive social and economic growth and development, stakeholders must also reflect on how proactive and targeted Disaster Risk Reduction and Management measures can play an integral role in reducing negative environmental impacts during the utilization and exploitation of these resources.

“Today’s consultation is yet another step in the right direction, where our key stakeholders will be able to critically review the first draft of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. The intent of this Plan is to implement a framework, which would cater for coordinated response action to potential onshore and offshore oil spills. As such, the plan needs to be simple but comprehensive, accessible, readily updatable and reflective of not only the working culture of Guyana but also in line with international standards and best practices,” Colonel Craig said.

He noted that the Government and other stakeholders involved must not only be prepared for the opportunities but for the accompanying challenges such as environmental pollution and oil spills.

“As we are all aware, without preparation, no amount of expertise, manpower or equipment can be effectively organised on the spot in the chaotic situation that prevails after an oil spill. The scope of a contingency plan is based on what is known as a “tiered response” framework. This helps to ensure that the planned response reflects the scale of the particular spill. The mere existence of a plan is not sufficient to ensure preparedness for responding to an oil spill. The planning process itself is as important as it serves to raise issues that will likely arise in response, while raising awareness on roles and responsibilities of every stakeholder,” he said.

The stakeholders today were drawn from the Ministry of Public Health, Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Guyana Coast Guard, Ministry of Natural Resources, Environmental and Conservation agencies, among others. While the next consultation date has not been decided as yet, Major Sean Welcome, Disaster and Preparedness Manager of the CDC, said that based on today’s session, the draft will be produced to reflect the input given and will then be taken back to the stakeholders before national consultations begin.

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