OPINION: The Gas to Energy Project: More questions than answers?

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Public Notice on June 25, 2021 stating that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was required for the “Gas to Energy Project” led by Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL). EEPGL is a wholly owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil, the 10th largest Fortune 500 company with 72,000 employees worldwide.

The Guyana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provided a schedule of virtual as well as face to face consultations for citizens and other concerned stakeholders to contribute to a “scoping” exercise – which the EPA says will contribute to determining the scope for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project.     

Additionally, a timeframe for written submissions was also announced; the public can email comments to epa@epaguyana.org up to midnight this coming Thursday July 24th, 2021. The EPA must take into account submissions – they don’t have to accept them, but they must consider them.

Written submissions are a stated requirement under the Environmental Act, Section 11 (7 and 8). The “scoping” consultations are not legislated under the Act but the EPA says they are being undertaken “at its discretion”. Nonetheless, oral submissions at the EPA-invited consultations cannot be ignored and are expected to be taken up, deliberated and referenced in the EIA process. The EPA has recorded the public consultations, which have provided a welcome opportunity to engage in the process. It would be conventional to have those recordings publicly available; this way, citizens and stakeholders can monitor and track the viability and veracity of the process.

On July 6th, 2021, the EPA began holding these public consultations. Numerous areas of confusion have arisen with respect to both the process and purpose of the public meetings. This is especially challenging given the Government of Guyana’s continuing lack of public engagement as to exactly how this “Gas to Energy Project” for Guyana was selected.  ExxonMobil presenters make it clear that the Government of Guyana asked them to do this project, and selected the site at Wales as well as the route for the proposed gas pipeline. It is important that the Guyanese public insist on a clear explanation from the Government of Guyana about how this project came to be.

We also need a laser-sharp focus on the EEPGL application submitted to the EPA for this particular project. According to EEPGL’s project summary, the application is for the construction and operation of a pipeline from the Liza Phase 1 and Liza Phase 2 Floating, Production, Storage, and Offloading (FPSO) vessels to an onshore natural gas liquids (NGL) and natural gas processing plant (NGL Plant). Approximately 220 km of the pipeline will be offshore, and 30 km will be onshore. Wet gas will be pumped through the pipeline from offshore to the NGL Plant where propane, butane and pentanes+, will be separated out, and where the remaining gas (methane and ethane) will be treated for use by a planned power plant. The application does not cover what happens to the propane, butane, and pentanes+ once produced. Obviously, they will have to be moved via roadways, bridges, waterways, and ports or some combination of those.

Depending on how these products move from the NGL plant, an EIA will likely pop out of the box later on.   The project scope also does not address the power plant that will be fed by the methane and ethane gas produced by the NGL facility. For the Government of Guyana, these are three inextricably intertwined developments; one cannot exist without the other two for the NGL facility to be feasible. Guyana should learn from the problems which have arisen in Ghana where developments have not been synchronized and oversupply has been costly to the country. The EPA would have us believe that the boundary that should be drawn for an Environmental Impact Assessment is guided by who the applicant is rather than the complete footprint implicated in the development. Even there we are confused; it appears that Guyana is financing part of the project, so why then isn’t Guyana a co-applicant? Why is the EPA approaching the EIA for this gas to energy development in a fragmented way? That cannot be in the public interest.

The public has so far participated in this process armed with only a 27-page project summary – that is lacking in crucial details – for a completely new industry in Guyana, natural gas. It does not even provide the public with basic information on the volumes of different products and wastes that would be produced at planned and maximum capacity. Information contained in the document has been contradicted by both EEPGL and Government representatives in oral consultations. Yet, with only a few days left for the statutory deadline to submit comments, the EPA has not updated the public Register to reflect the true purpose of the development and correct erroneous information. The countdown will reach zero on July 25 with the public deprived of knowledge of relevant matters to inform their written inputs.

Despite multiple requests, the EPA has refused to share EEPGL’s full application.  At the virtual consultation held on July 15th, 2021, the EPA stated that the project summary contains all of the information that is in the application, and therefore sharing the actual application would be redundant. Apart from the fact that the EPA is flat out refusing a public record request, the project summary does not provide the details required in the Environmental Authorization application. This form can be found on the EPA’s website.

Among the items missing from the project summary are: 1) the capital investment and the annual turnover, 2) alternative sites, 3) operating processes and the raw materials used in the operation, 4) the quantity and rate of consumption of process related chemicals, 5) a list with characterization and quantification of process related solid waste, and the method(s) and location for the disposal/reuse/recycle of solid waste, 6) a listing of the hazardous waste and the quantities to be used or stored, 7) the source, composition, discharge rate and the final effluent points of related effluent, 8) the source and consumption rate of process water, 9) the different types and sources of air pollution, an estimated emission rate or loading, and mitigation measures, and 10) a map showing surrounding land uses, identification of receiving water(s) and the location of any existing or proposed intake and discharge structures and the location of any discharge; 11) the related flaring and quantity of CO2 emissions that will be discharged into the air related to the drilling and extraction of the natural gas and its insertion into the proposed pipeline; 12) details and specifications of the underwater pipeline and the on-land pipeline; 13) the levels of produced water and frequency of discharge related to this project and the impacts on our marine resources that will occur from this ongoing and cumulative pollution.

In short, the project summary that is available to the public lacks pertinent project details, and suggests, if anything, that the Environmental Authorization application is premature.

Other fundamental concerns and questions raised in both of the virtual consultations included: the perceived inadequacy of marine environmental regulations within the current Act; and whether the current Environmental Act actually adequately covers the gamut of Oil & Gas extraction and industrialisation with all the necessary protections and remedies; the reversal of EIA guidelines and regulations to those of 2000 thereby revoking the more recent and scientifically sound guidelines/regulations approved in 2020 with no substantial explanation of the rationale for this change. As it stands, as articulated clearly by a stakeholder who has studied the Act, there is no reference to ‘petroleum’ in the EPA Act of 1996, or in the 2005 revision, nor in the Regulations therein.

Despite the shortcomings of the project summary, and the prevalence of concerns and issues raised in the consultations, the trend of the EPA indicates that the project will be pushed through with an EIA determined by the EPA and EEPGL.  Guyanese will once again be invited to public consultations, but this time they will be led by a consultant selected by and paid for by EEPGL – from a list of pre-qualified consultants approved by the EPA. It will be crucial that the comments that were submitted are made public, so that Guyanese can see what they were and how they have been addressed.

 The turnout and probing questions posed by Guyanese at the in-person and virtual sessions demonstrate the importance of this issue. The stakes are much too high now for anything less than meaningful engagement. This involves the pooling and sharing of knowledge on the oil and gas sector as shore-based industrial activities come to long-standing residential areas, local communities and traditional agricultural zones along Guyana’s coasts.

A limited number of studies on the gas and oil sector for Guyana are available online at the Ministry of Natural Resources’ website (https://nre.gov.gy), the IADB website (https://publications.iadb.org/), and elsewhere. Many have been placed in a folder by an independent stakeholder for people to access (https://tinyurl.com/4dwkxekp).

Amongst the key issues raised and comments made at the consultations that went largely unanswered were: that from an insurance point of view – EEPGL is actually a “shell company”: it does not carry enough insurance and does not have the financial assets to cover any disasters, such as the leakages of oil and gas.

Other issues are the question of ownership of oil and gas resources flowing through the proposed pipeline (given the understanding that this is the patrimony of the people of Guyana and of the generations to come); the question of the degree to which tax payers are funding this pipeline and the relevance of this in assessing the socio-economic impacts of the project; questions concerning the growing irrelevance of fossil fuels in today’s world and the lack of any contextual strategy for renewable energy as practical alternatives; questions around climate change impacts on the proposed infrastructure and operations; the fact that there are rolling mudbanks along the Guyana coast that are carried on the Amazon current – an unusual feature which creates an unstable seabed and raises questions about the extent to which this is being taken into account in the siting of the gas to shore project; the fact that the “precautionary principle” is stated in the Environmental Act, Section 2, and therefore needs to be rigorously applied by the EPA – but is it actually being applied in this case?

The EPA’s consultations to date have revealed a breadth of knowledge from frontline communities like fisherfolk whose livelihoods depend on the ocean; researchers and practitioners and activists who work on climate, social and environmental justice; and politicians familiar with the necessary gas sale agreements. Many persons reference Mr. Glen Lall’s radio programme for raising awareness across Guyana on the project. Persons have been writing to all newspapers presenting their informed perspectives, experience and expertise, raising critically important questions and concerns and offering advice on the project.

The EPA must not be allowed to keep the clock ticking down to the end of the public comment period. We call on the government to place this EIA on hold until such time that consultations are held on changes in our national development plan and the EPA reinstates the 2020 EIA guidelines or completes the consultations it says are required for improved guidelines. We close on a cautionary note – with the words of a trusted Guyanese scientist and expert who has actively participated in these consultations: “We urge EPA to consider the irreversible risks associated with every aspect of this proposal.”

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Comments

  • brandli62  On 07/21/2021 at 7:50 am

    I am in favour of the gas-to-shore project in principal. However, it needs to be carried out in line with Guyanese laws and regulation and the government needs to get advice from independent experts on how to best carry out the project. The project complex as it requires not only the piping of gas to the shore but also the processing of the natural gas, liquifying the gas, and exporting it for sale to the global market. At the same time, Guyana should aspire to cover most of its energy needs using renewable resources. This will reduce the nations CO2 output and allow for more revenue as more LNG will become available for export.

  • wally n  On 07/21/2021 at 10:39 am

    Only thing worst than the above …bidens “infrastructure” bill, the money can/will end up every place else but in pockets of Guyanese.Enough loopholes to fulfill the needs of any predator..what is ?
    “We also need a laser-sharp focus on the EEPGL application submitted to the EPA for this particular project. According to EEPGL’s project summary, ………??
    For Guyanese to participate and be aware, someone (never gonna happen) should summarize maybe even simplify the bunch of crap above, I think it is only fair, for Guyanese to at least know how they could end up screwed.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/23/2021 at 10:56 am

    Dear All,
    Under the Environmental Protection Act the EPA has to wait for public comments on the project summary for the gas to shore project before they can finalise the terms of reference for the EIA.

    They told me the deadline is Saturday 24th July 2021

    Whether one is pro/anti gas to shore, it’s important to use the legal rights to participation and information.

    I attach a link to a public submission that will be sent to the EPA on Saturday.

    Please consider co-signing. Please share with others, especially students and young people. Please share with employees, friends, family.

    The letter basically asks the EPA to answer the questions raised by 2 experts (Dr Mark Chernaik and me) and to provide additional information.

    Submission to the EPA for the proposed ‘Gas to Energy’ Project

    I am having trouble accessing this email address. If you have any questions feel free to contact me on +592 653 6905.

    The link is below. Best, M

    Melinda Janki

    Submission to the EPA for the proposed ‘Gas to Energy’ Project

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