Monday, May 10, 2010

Investors says" drill baby drill' but sanpedranos says NO to oil prospectors

The international news has been replete with the horrors of the massive oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico. Eighty-five thousand barrels have spilled so far since the well exploded on April twentieth.

Oil exploration is a relatively new industry for Belize and while the operations on land have so far experienced no major accidental disasters, offshore drilling is an entirely new experiment for us. But now there is word that a group of investors have been given a license to explore off the coast of San Pedro. That is why San Pedranos are concerned that an oil spill could spell disaster for the entire country.

While oil exploration will earn the country much-needed revenues, the repercussions of a disaster such as a spill like what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, could pose even greater long-term risks for a developing country like Belize, and concerned groups feel there needs to be a reactive solution in place.

Miguel Alamilla, Mgr., Hol Chan Marine Reserve: “Look at what’s happening in the Gulf, they haven’t been able to contain that spill for how long? I think it’s about two weeks or more. And the US has a lot of resources and money to do that and they haven’t been able to do it. What if that would happen here in Belize? It would be an even worse scenario because we have less resources and less finances to be able to contain a leak of that magnitude. Oil exploration can lead to damaging effects. If there is a leak, can we contain that leak? What are the possibilities? What are the possibilities? What are the damages that can result from that? We need to look into that and if something happened it could affect our livelihood, not only for us in San Pedro but for the country, all those that are dependent on tourism.”
Elito Arceo, President, Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development: “Anytime you have an oil exploration offshore San Pedro, they call the document it says very near Ambergris Caye. If you have any oil spill, you’re creating a problem that I’m not even an expert at but my point is, how yoh wah even start to get some measures to actually clean it? What will we do here in Belize? This is our jewel. For any oil spill to happen here and it goes all in our beaches or in the rivers, in all that mangrove ecosystem. How we wah clean dat? With a sponge and squeezy?”

And because the project can have serious and irreversible environmental repercussions, Tourism Minister and Area Representative, Manuel Heredia says he thinks the project needs a second review.

Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism/San Pedro Area Representative: “We have to be very, very cautious, look at it particularly now go back and visit it and see exactly if that is the way we want to go. I usually base my concerns as to what the technical people have to say. Again, if there are concerns from the environmental people, let us sit down and look at it carefully and only and only then should we go ahead and move forward. It’s not late yet, exploration has not started so we need to sit down and address it, that would be my personal opinion.”

Marion Ali: “But they already have permits. They have already been given approval permits.”

Manuel Heredia: “Yes, I will agree that probably they have been given them but looking at the concerns that are happening right now not far away from us, let us look at it, get together with the people and a little more consultation.”

While the people of San Pedro agree that the fragile tourism industry needs to be enhanced if it is to keep up with a fiercely competitive region, they also believe that the sensitive natural environment needs to be protected; and they are calling on the local authorities to do just that – striking a balance between sustainable tourism development and safeguarding the natural resources for generations to come.