General / Weekend News

NGO concerned about government’s decision to allow company to conduct seismic testing in offshore waters without EIA

By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor

The Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage has expressed concern about the government’s decision to allow a Houston-based company to conduct seismic testing in Belize’s offshore waters and adjacent to the protected areas that make up our Barrier Reef System World Heritage Site, and all without the benefit of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The Coalition says it appears that the Geology and Petroleum Department began to discuss a proposal to conduct seismic activity in Belize’s offshore areas with TGS, a multi-client company three years ago.

It continues: “Up to this point, the Belizean public has not had the benefit of being properly consulted or informed of this undertaking. Neither has there been any information made available to the public as to the basis on which the Department of Environment advised the Cabinet that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was unnecessary. The participating company intends to sell the results of their testing to anyone with the money to pay.

“The Government announced a moratorium on oil exploration in the sea. To allow for testing, is to reopen the doors to bidding for concessions to explore for oil. We understand that the company is
being required to produce an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) instead of an EIA. An ECP is normally prepared after there is an awareness of the impacts of an activity. It is then written to help to mitigate those impacts. It is NOT an alternative to an EIA.”

The Coalition feels that because there have not been public consultations to scrutinize such a plan, it appeals to the government to desist from pursuing seismic testing and other offshore oil activities. It adds that it opposes any action that would take this course and is disappointed “in the DOE’s cavalier approach to ‘protecting the environment’”. The NGO believes an EIA must be conducted in order to determine the inevitable impacts of seismic testing.

“Seismic surveys have been shown to displace commercial species of fish, with the effect in some fisheries of dramatically reduced catch rates. Seismic airguns can also cause mortality in fish eggs and larvae, induce hearing loss and physiological stress, interfere with adult breeding calls, and degrade anti-predator response. Sonic waves have also been found to damage fish with air bladders, and incite fish and other marine species to migrate away from affected areas,” the Coalition sums up.

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