Progress in oil rig talks

Guyana Chronicle
June 7, 2000

GUYANA and Suriname had by last night made "some progress" on resolving the row that flared last weekend when Suriname's Navy forced the removal of an oil rig operating in a Guyana offshore exploration concession.

Foreign Minister Clement Rohee, leading the Guyana delegation at talks with Suriname in Trinidad, said the meeting was "pretty good" but Guyana "didn't get all that we wanted."

He had expected before leaving for Trinidad that "we will reach some form of resolution on the immediate question of the location of the CGX drilling rig".

The Suriname Navy Saturday forced the Canadian CGX firm to remove the drilling rig from the concession area claiming it was in its territorial waters, a move Guyana called hostile and intimidatory.

CGX believes it has located two potentially giant oilfields in the concession area it has been awarded by the Guyana Government and the Foreign Ministry here has maintained that the rig was in Guyana's offshore territory.

"There has been some progress on the location of the CGX drill", Rohee told the Chronicle in a telephone interview during a conference break.

The marathon meeting at the conference centre of the Cascadia Hotel outside Port of Spain was set to continue well into this morning, the minister told the Chronicle during the break at around 22:30 hrs (10:30 p.m.).

The two sides were working on a joint communique from the meeting which he said will cover "areas we have agreed on, conclusions we have arrived at and the general orientation of the direction we want to take in other areas of functional cooperation."

Specifics of the agreement and the outcome of the meeting are not likely to be known until later today.

The Guyana team is due back home today.

Rohee said the delegation that accompanied him was "very supportive".

"They did a good job", he said.

Guyana's Ambassador to Suriname, Mr Karshanjee Arjun flew here Monday from Paramaribo to join the delegation for the talks in Trinidad.

Other members in the Guyana team are Ambassadors Donald Abrams, Rudy Collins and Elisabeth Harper; Mr Bhowan Balkarran, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock; Colonel Chibulall Ramsaroop of the Guyana Defence Force; Mr Brian Sucre, Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission; Mr Newell Dennison, Manager of the Petroleum Division of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission; Mr R. Jaggarnauth, Technical Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture on Lands and Dr Barton Scotland, Legal Consultant.

Suriname Minister of Natural Resources, Mr Erroll Alibux led a 10-member delegation which included Mr Erroll Snijders, Foreign Minister and Minister of Defence.

While the two countries said they were hoping to resolve the disagreement, both sides, before the start, indicated that their positions on the area in dispute were unchanged.

"We're maintaining our views on the maritime boundaries and seeking to ensure that those boundaries are not violated," Rohee told Reuters.

He said the rig was drilling within Guyana's maritime boundary.

"The problem here is that Suriname does not recognise the area as being under our sovereignty," he said.

In a statement issued yesterday, Suriname's embassy in Port of Spain said its government has expressed grave concerns that Guyana has granted concessions and permission to the Ontario-based CGX for drilling within Suriname's territorial waters and its Exclusive Economic Zone.

The statement said the "illegal activities" were taking place within the

Exclusive Economic Zone without Suriname's consent.

If CGX persisted, the embassy said Suriname "reserves the right to take appropriate measures to bring an immediate end to these illegal activities."

Two Surinamese navy patrol boats Saturday forced CGX to remove the American-owned rig from its concession.

Guyana has called Suriname's action "intimidatory and hostile" and a "serious threat" to the lives of CGX personnel in the potentially oil-rich area. CGX said that on Saturday, at 12:45 hrs (a.m.), as it was preparing to commence drilling, two patrol boats from the Suriname navy "demanded the rig cease operations and leave the area."

"For the safety of the crew and property, later on Saturday...the rig was moved about 75 km southwest to a safe location", the company said in a press release.

CGX said it has placed the rig on standby pending the results of the discussions between the two countries.

CGX said that for the past two years, it has conducted operations on its Corentyne concession under a licence from the Government of Guyana.

The weekend action by the Surinamese was the first hostile move against the firm.

Rohee, before yesterday's meeting, said Guyana hoped to "reach some kind of agreement with Suriname on the wider question of oil exploration concessions in the offshore area".

He also wants to "put back on track" the national border commissions between the two countries and the Guyana-Suriname Cooperation Council.

Despite the "intimidatory and hostile actions" against CGX, the Foreign Ministry in a statement Saturday said Guyana was committed to promoting friendly and good neighbourly relations with Suriname as with all its neighbours."

The last serious border incident between the two countries occurred in August 1969, when Guyanese troops evicted Surinamese soldiers from the New River Triangle in southeastern Guyana.

Shots were fired but no one was killed.

The new border spat came just more than a week after Surinamese voted in general elections in which President Jules Wijdenbosch's party won just three of the National Assembly's 51 seats. A meeting of the National Assembly to elect a new president has not yet been scheduled.

CGX said the C.E. Thornton drill rig of R&B Falcon, based in Houston, Texas, under contract to CGX, arrived last Thursday at the Eagle target, which is located within the Corentyne concession.

This is the first time in seven years that a firm has reached the stage of drilling for oil here.

The estimated cost of the drill hole is US$7.3M. On arrival, the jack-up legs of the rig were to be set on the ocean floor in about 270 feet of water.

Under the drilling plan, it was expected to take 45 days to drill and case to CGX's target depth of 12,500 feet, the firm said.

A further five days are scheduled for testing if electrical well-logging of the target zone is encouraging.

CGX holds a 100 per cent interest in a 15,464 sq km (3,800,000 acre) exploration licence in Guyana.

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