No conflict of interest in US$10M to environment watchdog – ExxonMobil

first_imgOfficials from oil giant ExxonMobil made a first-time appearance before the National Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee on Friday, where they gave an account of their activities in Guyana and defended the recently announced US$10 million grant made to Conservation International.Leading the team was Country Manager Rod Henson, who was asked about the implications of conflict of interest when part of that money will go to Conservation International of Guyana: a pro-environment, Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).“CI is an international NGO… Don’t you think that CI being grantee of US$10 million is actually a conflict of interest? They are the international watchdog which our Government has been partnering with as it relates to environment and conservation,” Committee member and opposition Parliamentarian Pauline Sukhai questioned.Committee Chairman Odinga Lumumba backed up his colleague’s observation, noting that the local CI has effectively been relieved of credibility when it comes to “any issue in Guyana with oil spills, environmental problems, etc.”In his answer, however, Henson denied that this was a conflict of interest. In fact, Henson affirmed that the Government of Guyana had prior knowledge that the company would partner with CI.Henson stressed that this initiative is a good thing, as CI could build capacity to improve its oversight.“This is our ExxonMobil Foundation initiative. This is not directed or approved by the Government. This is a good thing. I am not aware that Conservation International has a sole role and a unique role as a watchdog. ExxonMobil uses this organisation or partners with this organisation around the world,” he responded.The company announced on Monday that its philanthropic arm would be investing US$10 million into Guyana’s conservation efforts and into collaborations with the University of Guyana. According to a statement from the company, the US$10 million will be provided in tranches over a period of five years. It is understood that the initial grant money will fund a feasibility study that will work out the scope of the programme.ExxonMobil FoundationThe ExxonMobil Foundation engages in a number of philanthropic activities in the United States, with a focus on advancing education and training. But with the company’s local subsidiary having discovered over three billion recoverable barrels of oil off Guyana’s coast since 2015, the foundation has turned its attention here.“Once defined, Conservation International Guyana and the University of Guyana will deliver the education, training, research and retention programmes that will help ensure that economic growth reinforces Guyana’s environmental development goals. The investment is also intended to expand conservation areas in the Rupununi Wetlands,” the ExxonMobil statement detailed.According to the statement, money will go towards “mangrove restoration, and management and support improvements to community-based fishing on Guyana’s coast, a sector the Government of Guyana has identified as critically important to the wellbeing of the Guyanese people, and support the work of the University of Guyana’s Greening Research and Innovation Centres.”President of the ExxonMobil Foundation, Kevin Murphy, was quoted affirming that the money would go towards supporting the Government’s objectives in the Green State Development Strategy.“This partnership will support the highest conservation priorities for the country, as well as education and training for sustainable employment,” he said. “It (also) demonstrates the value we place on our long-term relationship with the citizens of Guyana.”Threat to environmentAn environmental study undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had previously found that the likelihood of an oil spill offshore Guyana as part of the ExxonMobil exploration is considered unlikely to occur because of the extensive preventative measures employed.It has nevertheless found that an oil spill is considered possible, and Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL) has conducted oil spill modelling to evaluate the range of likely spill trajectories and rates of travel.The location of the Project at 190 km (120 miles) offshore, prevailing northwest currents, the light nature of the Liza field crude oil, and the region’s warm waters would all help minimise the severity of a spill.“Accounting for these factors, the modelling indicates only a 5-to-10 per cent probability of any oil reaching the Guyana coast without taking into consideration the effectiveness of any oil spill response, and in the unlikely event that a spill were even to occur,” the study found.The results from the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) into the Liza Phase 2 development project had also relieved ExxonMobil’s subsidiary from the presumption that its operations would cause damage to Guyana’s wildlife and the environment – that is, pending an independent assessment.The report’s findings were that damage will be “negligible to minor” when it comes to various categories. That is, save for damage to marine mammals, which the report does find will be moderate.last_img

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