Two environment conscious citizens of Guyana have filed a lawsuit against the government demanding an end to offshore drilling by ExxonMobil and other large oil companies as such explorations and business activities threaten to worsen the climate crisis.
The case has been filed by Quadad de Freitas, a 21-year old Indigenous tourist guide from the Rupununi region, and Dr Troy Thomas, a university lecturer and former president of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency Institute Guyana.
In the law suit the plaintiffs claimed that the government’s legal duty to protect the right of the citizens and the right to a health environment by future generations were violated by the decision of the government to approve the oil exploration licences.
This is the first time such as constitutional climate case has been filed in in the Caribbean that challenges challenge fossil fuel production based on climate and human rights grounds.
In the small South American country, where about two-fifths of the population live below the poverty line of US$5.50 a day, the discovery of oil and subsequent production-sharing agreements with some of the world’s largest fossil fuel firms have proved politically explosive.
A joint-venture between the oil firms ExxonMobil, Hess Corporation and a subsidiary of the China National Offshore Oil Company, has been given approval to explore for oil and gas in the multibillion-dollar Stabroek exploration block off the coast of Guyana.
According to estimates of ExxonMobil, there is about 8bn barrels of crude oil under the sea in addition to trillions of cubic feet in natural gas in the block.
Apart from its oil fields in the US Permian basin, this block in Guyana is the largest oil development project of ExxonMobil. Oil production from the first deepwater project stage, called Liza-1, was started by the company in late 2019. ExxonMobil expects to begin oil drilling and production from Liza-2 in early 2022. Kats year the company announced more investments in a third project in the block, at Payara, and is expecting to make more investments in the future.
There have been lawsuits against the Guyanese government by campaigners over the approval of drilling licences but such cases were based on the argument that only one of the two companies in the joint venture possessed an environmental permit.
The court had ruled against the campaigners and the case is still pending at Guyana’s court of appeal.
However, courts had ruled in favour of campaigners in a second case that sought to challenge the duration of the environmental permits given to the oil companies with respect to the first two exploration projects. Following the ruling the environmental permits for first two projects will expire in 2021 instead of 2024 and therefore a reapplication for permit in the next month will have to be filed by ExxonMobil.
“This is a classic public interest case,” said the lawyer Melinda Janki, who is representing the claimants in court in the latest court case. “In 2001-02 I lobbied the Guyanese government very hard to put the right to a healthy environment in the constitution. It’s in the interests of everyone to know what the law means, whether this oil production amounts to a violation of the right to a healthy environment. It’s then going to be up to the government to decide what actions to take.”
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)