WWF Calls for a Full Environmental and Social Assessment of Guyana’s Oil and Gas Development

Posted on 17 May 2021
Red scarlet ibis feed in the mangrove forest in shell beach protected area
© WWF-Guianas
Having taken note of the recent controversies surrounding the clearing of mangroves along the West Bank of the Demerara river, WWF-Guianas reiterates its call for a full environmental and social assessment of the growing oil and gas sector, granted that the strategic decision has been made regarding its development.

Such an assessment will give decision-makers and the public-at-large an objective view of the range of impacts from the industry, that has already begun to transform the country. Environmental and Social Impact assessments, done at a project, sector or policy level provide a strong and objective means to help stakeholders to better understand issues that will affect them, their communities and the environment to which they are connected. It engenders the sharing and objective debate and can lead to the co-creation of long lasting and sustainable solutions that are less costly and less conflicting. Given the issues involved, this assessment should be done at the strategic and sectoral level.

We call for such an assessment at a time when some developers in the oil and gas industry are demonstrating low interest in keeping to their promises and acting in good faith at the very least, and at times, even flouting the nation’s laws. In the case of the mangrove clearing, the developer seems to have cleared more mangrove forest than was in the proposed plan. Why mangroves should be protected is obvious, and their destruction must not be accepted without great deliberation as to the costs versus benefits to society. Mangroves protect the coastline and riverbanks in Guyana, connecting saltwater from the ocean to the freshwater produced by rivers. They play an important role in supporting Guyana’s rich biodiversity, as they feature complex ecosystems where aquatic wildlife, coastal birds and other animals thrive.  An added value of these amazing forest ecosystems is their climate protection and mitigation benefits. They provide protection to coastal and riverain communities from erosion, flooding, and rising levels of the oceans, and they are known for their exceedingly high carbon storage potential that rivals terrestrial forests. For many communities, mangrove forests are also a key source of their livelihoods.

But beyond the specific issue of mangroves and shore base development, the full development programme for offshore oil and gas production is yet to be known, and as such it is difficult to anticipate and plan ahead for these impacts. While a few may have a grasp of the issues, the average person has little chance to engage on most of these issues in a fact-based or rational manner. The reality is that the oil and gas sector will cause double-figure GDP growth over the next few years, starting from a growth rate of 43.5% in 2020 according to CARICOM. However, Guyana faces the reputational risk over the perception that it is forsaking a low-carbon and sustainable future through the way it is embracing the oil and gas industry. And there is the reality that the country’s carbon emissions has increased as a result of gas flaring, and it has now become a carbon emissions exporter as a result of the offshore oil and gas development.

Though not a silver bullet, a full assessment of the oil and gas industry will certainly help. People need to be aware and fully engaged on such a mammoth transformational development that will make Guyana the biggest per capita petro-producer in the world in a few years’ time. A well-structured, transparent and equitable mechanism is needed for the country to have any chance to ensure that the oil and gas sector does not destroy our society as has happened in most other oil producing developing countries, much less to ensure Guyana’s continued commitment to a low-carbon and sustainable future. None of us would want to bequeath to the next generation untold economic, social and environmental burdens which unfortunately has happened elsewhere.
WWF welcomes the just released announcement that ExxonMobil and its partners CNOOC International Ltd and Hess Corp. will have to pay US$30 per tonne of CO2eq that they release from unregulated gas flaring from their offshore operation. We also welcome the stricter enforcement of planning permits and application of the law on specific project developments related to this new sector of the economy. These are good specific steps, but the issues are much bigger.

WWF continues to be committed to working with government and other stakeholders to mainstream sustainability in Guyana’s development efforts and help to reduce the environmental impact and protect sensitive habitats that will be irrevocably damaged by the oil and gas industry.
Red scarlet ibis feed in the mangrove forest in shell beach protected area
© WWF-Guianas Enlarge