Guyana fast-tracked Liza development to protect sovereignty

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Participants at the Guyana Oil & Gas Law Training Development Conference organised by the Guyana Bar Association, held on March 10, 2018.

Guyana on Friday acknowledged a move to strategically fast track the development of the Liza oil field in the Stabroek Block by US oil major ExxonMobil in order to assert its sovereignty over the territory ahead of the International Court of Justice hearing on its border controversy case with Venezuela.

The Guyanese government’s position was articulated by Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman as he addressed a caucus of the country’s top legal minds engaged in an Oil and Gas Law Seminar held at the Ramada Princess International Hotel.

The top ranking Guyanese government official disclosed publicly that it was the Decree issued by the Venezuelan Government on the day (May 26, 2015) Guyanese President David Granger was being inaugurated as Head-of-State, that triggered the push for a rapid move to first oil before the case is heard.

The Decree issued by the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at the time laid claim to Guyana’s maritime territory just 120 miles from its shore.

“That event in and of itself had a lot to do with the events that transpired soon thereafter,” Mr. Trotman told the legal seminar ahead of the formal deliberations.

The Natural Resources Minister in providing the first ever such disclosure told those gathered at the event organized by the Guyana Bar Association (GBA), that actions by Venezuela triggered actions on the part of Guyana.

“Never in our wildest imagination would we have believed that the well off the coast of Mahaica, Clonbrook would be claimed by our neighbour to the west…Venezuela claimed the Liza Well as theirs on 26 May, 2015,” Mr. Trotman said.

He told those in attendance – attorneys, judges and magistrates from across the country – that Venezuela’s intention “was made very clear.”

The Minister, who served as former Speaker of the National Assembly in its 10th Parliament (2011-2014), told the Lawyers the decision to send the border case to the ICJ by the United Nation’s Secretary General is instructive in the context of the Venezuelan Decree, since they are “inextricably linked.”

As such, it was important for the the administration “to secure and anchor the company —ExxonMobil — in Guyana and it is important to us that we move to production at the fastest possible time, without of course, forsaking or sacrificing sound environmental practices at the altar of expediency.”

The Minister in justifying this position and accompanying machinations, said while government was interested in securing economic benefit it was important in the context of the maritime boundary claimed by Venezuela, that the country “boost the production as quickly as possible.”

This he said is to, “assert, when we got to Court (ICJ) that production is taking place within the territorial waters of Guyana.”

The production from the Liza Well would at the time be a fact undisputed in the court of law, he said.

“If it was that there was no production, it would be a matter for dispute as to where the well is, …so getting to production was strategic because it had to do with our sovereignty.”