Oil and borders
Stabroek News
December 1, 2002

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In our edition of November 17, we reported on the Government’s intention of stepping up the land search for oil. Commissioner Robeson Benn of the Geology and Mines Commission, had told this newspaper that the onshore areas of the Guyana/Suriname basin which included the coastal strip from the Corentyne to the North West were being targeted, as was the Takutu Basin in Region Nine. Where the latter is concerned, Mr Benn in an interview with the Oil and Gas Journal had indicated that it was the Government’s intention to offer 10,000 sq km in the Takutu Basin near the Brazilian border for exploration. Prospective licences, he had been reported as saying, were available on a “first come, first served basis.”

Portions of this area have been explored before. In 1980, Home Oil discovered hydrocarbons in the west of the basin, although not in commercial quantities, and Hunt Oil drilled there unsuccessfully some years later. It is highly unlikely that anyone has any problem with the renewed emphasis on a land search for oil, including in the Takutu basin; however, it has to be noted that this has come about because offshore exploration and exploitation have been stymied by border problems.

There was the fiasco of the CGX eviction more than two years ago, and subsequent to that in our western maritime zone, there was the pressure exerted by Venezuela on international companies to relinquish exploration concessions granted by Guyana off the Essequibo coast. Despite the fact that the Government has openly indicated its preparedness for an agreement with Suriname which would allow joint exploitation of marine resources in the area of overlap without prejudice to a final determination of the border, Paramaribo has not been accommodating. In October, the two national border commissions met again, with no apparent result. More than one month later, it has not been possible for them to agree on the “language” of a joint communique.

The CGX predicament and our inability to exploit hydrocarbon resources off Essequibo’s shores, are, in the final analysis, failures of border policy. There was clearly no serious thought on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about how, given the frontier realities, we should go about ensuring that we could enjoy the benefits of oil reserves falling within our maritime jurisdiction; all the Government did, obviously, was to give out licences, then close its eyes and hope for the best.

And now Venezuela, having interfered in our maritime hydrocarbons programme, is granting licences for gas exploration off the Orinoco delta. Does the Government of Guyana know if any of the blocks being awarded impinges on our waters? Has it attempted to find out? Does it have any strategies in place should the Government of President Chavez act on earlier suggestions that it might grant exploration licences in Essequibo waters? Does it have any policy at all in regard to our maritime boundaries? Has it made contact with those Caricom states also under pressure from Venezuela where marine borders are concerned, to craft a possible common position? Just what is it doing?

One would have thought that by now the Government would have discovered that the lack of a border policy is costing us dearly in economic terms. When is the administration going to stop behaving like the proverbial ostrich and recognize that problems in this area will not just go away or right themselves if it hides its heads in the sand for long enough.

The land search for oil, as said above, is commendable. However, as we reported in our November 17 edition, the Takutu basin venture would only be attractive to the smaller oil companies, because of logistical problems in relation to accessing the location. Other land sites might be more promising. However, the field from which the CGX rig was evicted was known to have substantial reserves which, when exploited, would have had a substantial impact on our economy. If only for economic reasons - although there are many others too - isn’t it time that the Government started according the matter of our frontiers the attention it deserves?

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