Large-scale land, water remapping project to get underway in Guyana

An aerial view of Guyana's Atlantic coast

As it embarks on a project to remap the entire country, the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) is establishing a Hydrographic Surveying Unit to deal with a range of features including those related to offshore exploration.

According to Chief Executive Officer of the GL&SC, Trevor Ben, Guyana has not been remapped in close to six decades – the 1960s to be exact.

In 2019, the agency will be investing over $200M to begin the process in Region One (Barima-Waini).

Speaking at his 2018 end of year press conference at the commission’s Durban Backlands, Georgetown office recently, Benn stated that based on estimates received from various international suppliers, it will cost $5.3B to $16B to remap the entire country and this process can take up to five years depending on the mode used.

Due to the lack of these surveys, the Commission is unable to provide updated maps and information to its clients.

The Hydrographic Surveying Unit will be looking at the country’s rivers and other water bodies.

In a subsequent interview with OilNOW, Benn stated that under the GL&SC Act, the commission is required to “execute or cause to be executed” Geodetic, Topographic, Hydrographic and Cadastral surveys in relation to the land and water resources of Guyana.

However, he said the hydrographic aspect of the commission’s work which deals with features which affect maritime navigation, marine construction, dredging, offshore oil exploration/offshore oil drilling and related activities, has been neglected.

As such, the unit to be established at the agency’s head office will deal with the underwater aspect of the remapping process.

While the cost of the equipment needed was described by the CEO as “astronomical,” initial works will be given to contractors until the unit is adequately staffed and has purchased its own tools.

“What we are intending to do is to set up a unit and train some of our staff to make them more capable of doing it on our own and in the future, we are looking to acquire our own equipment,” the CEO explained. The surveying can be done aerially or using ships and boats.

Benn pointed out that many of the country’s natural resources is located under water. “In order for us to be able to understand what is going on in our waters, hydrographic surveying is important,” he contended, adding that “we can become more knowledgeable about where they (our natural resources under water) are, where the deposits are, etc.”

Over the years, companies interested in harnessing Guyana’s resources have been required to conduct years of surveying. As such, the profits from any new found wealth is always required to factor in the company’s expenses.

However, Benn related that “it is not to our benefit that we have to rely on people.”

The entire process will cost millions of US dollars but the CEO said it is time “the Government bite the bullet” since it will be beneficial in the long run in making more informed decisions.

“We can negotiate better, we can say to people coming to Guyana, here is what we have and this is where to find it, makes it a lot easier so people don’t spend a year, two years searching an area for what they’re looking for…We should be able to tell them before they even come,” he noted.

He added that “if they have the information and are coming to us, I’m not sure if we can expect them to always give us the best information to help us to make the best decision so its better off if we as a country invest in these things.”

Hydrographic survey also plays a major role in ensuring safety in the waterways since it provides passage for ships which is a common form of transportation for imports and exports. The safety aspect is however being looked at by the Maritime Administration (MARAD).

The GL&SC will also be joining the International Hydrographic Organization in 2019 to benefit from capacity building and other support.

Prior to 2015 when ExxonMobil announced its first major oil find, 22 wells, from as far back as the 1970s, had already been drilled by other companies on the coastal shelf outside the southern boundaries of the Stabroek block. Other companies expressed an interest in the block but later turned away.

The contract negotiated with ExxonMobil, CNOOC Nexen and HESS, has been a major topic of contention in Guyana. When it was revealed that the country will receive a 2% royalty and 50% profit oil, some expressed that a better deal could have been negotiated by government. However, the initial terms and conditions were arrived at prior to the Liza 1 discovery, at a time when it was not known if any oil was offshore and prior attempts at exploration by other companies came up dry.

Since then, ExxonMobil has made a record 10 discoveries with estimated recoverable reserves exceeding 5 billion barrels of oil.