Don’t renegotiate the contract, cancel it

Organization for the Victory of the People (OVP) adds its voice to all those calling for an immediate cessation of the contract with ExxonMobil and of all oil and gas production. In particular, we wish to give our full support to the recent case filed by Guyanese nationals, Quadad de Freitas and Dr. Troy Thomas against the oil giant ExxonMobil’s three projects, Liza Phase One, Liza Phase Two, and Payara. We join all those in the scientific, financial and legal worlds, who are calling not for a renegotiation of the contract, but rather for a cancelling of the contract and a bold decision to leave the oil and gas in the ground. The documentary, ‘Carbon Bomb’, released in October 2020, exposes the nefarious reasons behind ExxonMobil’s oil projects in Guyana. ‘Carbon Bomb’ is available on YouTube and should be watched by every Guyanese. Insiders tell the story of ExxonMobil’s financial crisis and how Guyana became a pawn in the game of the beleaguered oil giant’s desperate attempts to stave off financial disaster, as it colluded with the World Bank to turn Guyana into the “world’s latest victim of the oil curse”. It is no secret that oil companies are facing huge challenges as the world moves out of the fossil fuel era.

 Unfortunately due to the ineptitude, short-sightedness and greed of the APNU+AFC regime, Guyana signed up for one of the very worst deals in the history of the oil and gas industry, and the current government is running with it. The Guyanese people have been sold a lie and sadly the majority are clinging to it. The lie is that oil will bring prosperity. The truth is that it will have catastrophic consequences for our spectacular environment, which is our most precious resource, valuable beyond measure and the true key to our prosperity. In addition, given that we operate in a system built around neo-liberal capitalism, I can promise you that the oil and gas can flow like the waters of the Kaieteur, and those who are poor and dispossessed will remain on the margins of our society, growing poorer, while those who already possess tremendous wealth and control strategic sections of our economy will continue to get richer. There are too many examples of oil discoveries worldwide that have produced this same outcome and prove my point.

Furthermore, and this is the main argument for pausing and changing our direction – Guyana has missed the era of oil bonanzas. It’s over. Oil prices are plummeting because the climate crisis is forcing everyone to turn to clean energy alternatives and reduce their dependency on fossil fuels ASAP. As a result, ExxonMobil is in serious financial crisis and its lucrative deals in Guyana are not so lucrative after all, but are being used as window dressing to deceive panicking shareholders into believing that the company is healthy and solvent. As Nikki Reisch, Director of the Climate and Energy Programme for the Washington DC based Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), points out, “gas is so worthless that Exxon would rather burn it than capture it and sell it. Guyanese people need to wake up to what is happening before it’s too late.”

Easier said than done. As the leader of a political organization that has been warning Guyanese for years about the fact that we need to face some hard truths, I know that this is an uphill battle. Many Guyanese will see it as extreme when we advocate that the oil should stay in the ground. They will cry that we are trying to deny Guyana its opportunity to prosper. The opposite is true. If Guyanese do not take action immediately, we stand to lose everything that we hold most dear, and that will guarantee and safeguard our potential prosperity in a world where future wars will be fought over uncontaminated food and clean drinking water, not oil.

In May 2020, CIEL issued a press release calling on ExxonMobil to heed international environmental pollution warnings and cease flaring immediately. The statement clearly stated that “The flaring, which far exceeds levels authorized by the Guyanese government, releases greenhouse gases and toxins, threatening the global climate, the local environment, and public health.” Back then, CIEL’s president, Carroll Muffett, said that the volume of natural gas flared after only 6 months of oil production “put Guyana among the top ten gas-flaring countries in the world.”

CIEL is now among a number of international organizations giving their full support to the most recent legal case filed by de Freitas and Thomas to stop the oil giant. OVP congratulates these two courageous citizens and Guyanese patriot, Melinda Janki, who is leading the legal team. We are proud that Guyana is now leading the way towards a more sane future, since as Muffett points out, this case is the first of its kind in the Caribbean and “part of a rising tide of action by citizens worldwide who are going to courts to accelerate action in response to the climate crisis”. He points out that the case stands on firm ground, since there is clear science-based evidence that the emissions from oil and gas production make the environment more harmful to health and wellbeing, and are therefore in violation of Article 149J of Guyana’s Constitution, which guarantees the right to a healthy environment and requires the State to protect the environment for present and future generations. We can be proud that our constitution incorporates such progressive environmental demands and safeguards.

In relation to the current case, Mr. Muffett highlighted a startling fact, that more than 90 million tonnes of greenhouse gases will be emitted directly from Exxon’s three projects and that this “is tantamount to burning more than 260,000 hectares of Guyana’s forests or practically removing close to 80 percent of Iwokrama, which comprises 371,000 hectares of forest”. As if this is not catastrophic enough, he added that the “direct emissions from operating the wells will be dwarfed by the carbon dioxide emitted when the oil and gas they produce is burned. Those emissions will affect Guyana, its people, and the planet no matter where in the world they are released.”  

Only those with myopic vision and totally lacking in foresight can advocate taking us down this path of national suicide. Given the facts outlined above, can anyone say that leaving the oil in the ground is an extreme position? Or is it simply a rational and courageous one, that will ensure the preservation of the incredible wealth and resources that this country has been blessed with. Space here has only allowed me to briefly mention a few of the immediate and long term consequences of ExxonMobil’s endeavours. There are many others that are equally disturbing, including the highly possible, if not inevitable potential disaster that could occur given the type of deep water operations that we have given this ill-equipped and careless oil giant permission to embark on. I ask my fellow Guyanese: is it not better to leave the oil and gas where it is – at the bottom of the ocean, and remember that wise age-old adage “all that glitters is not gold”.

Finally, in 2021, any economic theorist worth their salt is forced to admit that in a world of finite resources, the concept of endless growth at the centre of both capitalist and communist industrial ideologies is a flawed one.  It is unnatural, irrational, and illogical and threatens the very survival of the human species and our planet. Our politicians boast that they are promoting and developing a green economy but sadly they don’t seem to have the faintest clue about how to achieve that goal. This is tragic because it is a goal that would most certainly secure Guyana’s prosperity and place in this brave new world.

Gerald A. Perreira
Organization for the Victory of the People (OVP)

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