Offshore Oil contracts are null and void
"This is a victory for the People of Belize, our democracy and the reef of Belize"
Today Justice Oswell Legall handed down the much awaited decision in the case challenging the validity of the offshore oil contracts issued by the Government of Belize in 2004 and 2007 and since then extended in 2009. The decision is a historic one as it chastises the government, especially Cabinet saying that "allowing oil exploration before any assessment of its effects on the environment is not only irresponsible, but reckless, especially in a situation where Belize may not be fully capable of handling effectively an oil spill."
In his judgment Justice Legall said that the Minister who signed the contracts "exceeded his jurisdiction when he entered into the agreements without first having or considering an environmental impact assessment of oil exploration on the environment". He explained the entire intention of the Environmental Protection Act is to make environmental assessment so as to protect the environment. Having explained his reasoning for the decision he then handed down the four orders he issued, namely:
1. A declaration that the Production Sharing Agreement (Oil contracts) are null and void for two reasons: one - that no EIA was done before issuing these and; two - they were entered into with companies that did not demonstrate a proven ability to contribute the necessary funds, assets, machinery, equipment, tools and technical expertise for the effective performance of the PSA’s;
2. A declaration that EIA’s are required to be done before any oil contracts could be entered into;
3. An injunction restraining the defendants, servants and agents from carrying out the provisions of the PSA’s; and
4. The defendants are to pay the cost of the applicants.
"This is a great day for the people and country of Belize and its democratic process and it shows that us, as ordinary citizens, need not sit back and only complain about all the wrong decisions our Government makes, but we can use the Judiciary to settle these… This is what happened in this case," said Audrey Matura-Shepherd VP Oceana, which is the organization that initiated the case in December 2011. They were later joined by the Coalition To Save Our Natural Heritage and COLA as co-claimants, an application the Government had vehemently objected to.
"Our laws are made to be followed by all because none is above the law and so for the court to point out where the Government violated these very laws such as the Petroleum Act, and the Environmental Protection Act, in issuing these oil contracts, will surely give confidence
to our citizens at a time when many have become weary of improper ministerial exercise of power. This invigorates us to continue our work to call for a ban of all offshore oil exploration and drilling in our Belizean waters,’ added Matura-Shepherd
The ruling is historic and has grave implications for all these oil companies who have either been doing seismic testing or gearing up to start exploratory wells.