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Feb 2, 2011

Offshore drilling goes to referendum; OPIC block shelved

Earlier we told you about the government’s decision to save one point four million acres of the sea from further oil exploration licenses. While COLA raised awareness on the issue of oil drilling in the reef, its advocacy partner OCEANA has been prepping for upcoming events in the United States.  OCEANA Vice President for Belize, Audrey Matura Shepherd told News Five via phone from Washington that after records of the Department of Petroleum and Geology revealed that OPIC had withdrawn from Belize in October 2010, the PM said litigation is the main reason he wouldn’t interfere with concession contracts, and today’s announcement about not reissuing the OPIC block is welcomed news. According to Shepherd, the PM indicated that a referendum on drilling would be forthcoming. Shepherd says that a referendum places the question of whether or not to drill directly to the public.

Via Phone: Audrey Matura Shepherd, VP, OCEANA Belize

“When OPIC withdrew, he didn’t have that problem anymore—that couldn’t be a concern anymore. And from all indications what the Prime Minister was saying was like look I will entertain putting a hold on everything but I cannot deal with the litigation. Now what’s important is that OPIC was the second largest offshore block that was one point one-thirty-nine million acres that they relinquished. And they actually had a massive amount of the reef, from Belize District to the Stann Creek District—all that reef system that is part of the Barrier Reef. And so what we did when we realized that there was this opportunity, Oceana wrote a letter to the Prime Minister. We told him here is an opportunity, we know that you were always concerned about litigation—your prayers have been answered. And what was very important in the letter, what we did, we told him and the Deputy Prime Minister who is responsible for petroleum that this was an important time, a historic time for Belize and the way the history of this country is listed is very much in their hands and it is indeed. The mere fact now they say they will not issue that block anymore until after referendum, this is a massive accomplishment for the history and democracy of Belize because what the government is saying is that we are prepare to hear people and to let them decide do you want drilling on our reef in Belizean waters.”

Jose Sanchez

“Have you even gotten an update from UNESCO as to what they’ve received from the government being that the deadline is up, regarding the status of the Barrier Reef and the measures that should be in place?”

Via Phone: Audrey Matura Shepherd

Audrey Matura Shepherd

“Ok, that’s a good question cause what we understand and I don’t know if the press release they issued said it, but what we understood is that yesterday at Cabinet, not only did they say they won’t reissue the block, but they actually included it in their response to UNESCO. And that is very important because that would have been another good accomplishment for the government because remember UNESCO has asked them for there be no oil concessions in the Belize Barrier Reef System and also UNESCO asked them to please give an update to see what have you done to show in good faith that you are trying to solve your problems. So being able to tell UNESCO that look we are not reissuing any new offshore contract; that is a major plus for us and is a victory for Belize because then that means UNESCO will then view our World Heritage Site as something that we indeed treasure.”

Government made the official announcement in a press release this afternoon stating that “it has decided not to give back out, at this time, any of the area relinquished by OPIC.” Meanwhile, another release was sent by the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage, applauding government decision. The coalition calls the move an important first step towards protecting Belize’s offshore from oil drilling and says it plans to continue campaigning for a permanent ban in Belize’s waters and protected areas.

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1 Response for “Offshore drilling goes to referendum; OPIC block shelved”

  1. Joe Devine says:

    Who believes that people can survive by sitting on the reef and watching dreamily out beyond and thinking about Belize’s Natural heritage? What are you getting out from it ? If you believe you can survive by doing that then you should ask Matura to lobby UNESCO to pay you US$500,000 per year to share with your fellow Belizean brothers and sisters.

    Which country would not try to develop its petroleum resources if it knows that there is a good potential for discovery. Those that do, and a few at that, chose to do that because they are already wealthy through export industries, agriculture, toursim and offshore services so that they can afford to do that and import all their fuel at the same time.

    Tell me how offshore drilling (NOT drilling on the reef) will adversely affect the barrier reef. Please list them.

    Also tell me how cruise tourism is affecting the barrier reef.

    For whom are protecting our nature reserves or protected areas? Are Belizeans extracting mahogany, shate or hardwoods from the Chiquibul? Or are the Guats doing that?

    Come on have a life!

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