The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the Bank of Guyana and the Department of Energy, has been able to get ExxonMobil’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL) to secure local insurance totaling US$2.5B.
But what happens if an oil spill incident exceeds that amount? It is upon contemplation of this very question that EPA’s Head, Dr. Vincent Adams said he insisted that ExxonMobil step forward and pick up any and all costs that are not covered by its subsidiary.
Dr. Adams said, “When Exxon had applied for a permit (for Liza Phase Two), we insisted that they had to have a certain degree of liability coverage. There was some back and forth on the issue but the EPA held its ground…I am proud to say that Guyana unless someone tells me otherwise,…has the highest liability coverage in the world. Most countries would go and buy insurance and the highest you would get is US$2.5B.”
The EPA Head added, “But we insisted that anything over and above had to be covered by them because Esso doesn’t have any assets. It is just a limited liability company. We insisted that the parent companies have to cover any excess so we basically have unlimited coverage for any spill or disaster…”
Dr. Adams said too that while he has much confidence that the operators are going to do what is necessary to carry out their operations in an environmentally friendly manner, his goal is to work towards having 24/7 oversight. This he said will take about two years given the scarce resources at his disposal.
While preparations for the oil sector are crucial, Dr. Adams said that there are other competing interests for EPA’s resources. In this regard, Dr. Adams noted that the EPA does not have its own laboratory or even basic equipment to test water and air samples. It would have to send to Trinidad or elsewhere for this service. He said that getting this in order, even as preparations continue for oil, cannot be put on the back burner since there is an overwhelming number of other environmental issues in the mining sector for example which need urgent attention. He noted that the heavily polluted waterways in the interior are a “nightmare issue” that he intends to give due attention.
Dr. Adams said, “If we get the funding that we are requesting, we would be well on our way to satisfying our dream of becoming the agency we want, a proper agency, a model for others to follow. We want to build our own laboratory and get some essential equipment. We are devoid of equipment to do simple things like water samples and we get over 20 complaints every day…We have to strike a balance between oil and the other sectors we have to monitor.”
Further to this, the EPA Head expressed his hopes to have offices set up in every region come next year. He already has an office in Berbice and Linden. Anna Regina and Lethem are his priority areas for 2020.
“So even with all that we have to do with oil, we still can’t lose sight of the other responsibilities we have, the other goals we have to achieve. And as I said, I have asked the Finance Minister for a certain amount of funding and if we get it, we can really be an agency that serves all these competing interests effectively,” the EPA Head added.