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Offshore Drilling Moratorium to become Law

Today, Prime Minister Dean Barrow officially announced government’s plan to convert the moratorium on offshore oil exploration into a permanent piece of legislation. As we had reported yesterday the Prime Minister wrote to the Vice President of Oceana, Janelle Chanona in respect to Belize’s moratorium on offshore oil exploration. In his letter, the Prime Minister informed Chanona that Cabinet has decided to construct a piece of legislation that would convert the moratorium into a permanent policy. As we said yesterday, PM Barrow referred to the matter during today’s House Sitting


Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister:


“No doubt people will recollect that this is already a policy of the government announced some months ago perhaps as long ago as a year but in consequence of conversations with Oceana and the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage Cabinet felt that the time has come to put the policy commitment into law. It makes no practical difference since under either regime there is not going to be any licenses granted for offshore oil exploration activity but it certainly I believe gives comfort to those who require such comfort that this is a step beyond just the policy commitment. Cabinet expects to have the bill drafted very shortly and to introduce it into the house not later than October of this year. We fully expect to have another meeting after today’s session sometime in October of this year and at that meeting we hope to be able to introduce the bill.”

Chanona told the media today that this is a momentous accomplishment for OCEANA Belize.


Janelle Chanona, Oceana Belize:

“I think this has to be construed as a giant momentous occasion it’s one significant step for Belize signaling to the world that it fully intends to incorporate a sustainable development agenda as a we map our future and with that safeguarding marine resources is high on that list of priorities so for the members of the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage today is a very momentous day, this is an example of exemplary leadership we hope that it will be replicated around the globe but certainly as I think the Prime Minister referenced his comments it affords Belizeans the peace of mind that all Belizeans deserve on this issue that they have stated and re stated that they want to be involved in this issue so once this law is past that is exactly what Belizeans would be able to enjoy that they know that once this indefinite moratorium is passed that our marine resources will be safeguarded from the inherent hazards of offshore oil development.”

Reporter: What went into the negotiations between the environmental groups and the government?

Janelle Chanona, Oceana Belize:

“I think it goes without saying that this has been an issue that has been headlines and conversation since 2011 and I think the constant factor in this equation has been the unwavering commitment of the Belizean people on this issue in that they have used all ways possible, every way that we’ve asked them to and some at their own initiative to show leaders that this is an important issue that they want addressed and they want legislative action on so I think that is really the prevailing factor and this is truly once this becomes law this will be a significant accomplishment for the Belizean people and Belize and I think Belize will really set itself apart as a leader in this area and we can only hope that that exemplary leadership will be replicated.”

Barrow explained that this is not a ban on offshore oil activities.

Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister:

“But there is no change remember that was where there was the rub. We agreed some time ago to policy decision that there would be a moratorium but there were those who wanted a permanent pan and I’ve always said that I am completely against that and I am still against that. A moratorium is a different thing even though it is indefinite the fact is that it is not permanent it is not expressed to be permanent so that you cannot rule out the possibility that at some point in the future clearly not in the near future when technology has advanced there might be very easy ways of determining whether we do have resources where some people think there might be without having to go through the process that the environmentalist object to that is the position now and when if that day ever comes, remember and this is where I had to be sure that Oceana and the Coalition were on the same page as I was, we can’t fetter parliament, we can’t bind a future parliament so when we passed the law even though it’s not express to be permanent they would have wanted us to say ‘well even to lift the non-permanent ban you would need to go through certain steps; they talked about a referendum you cannot do that. You can’t put in a bill that a future parliament will not be able to change this bill except there is a referendum no that referendum provision in the bill is part of the bill that a future parliament can simply upend so there is clearly still the opening for somewhere down the road, I stress it will be no doubt far down the road if at all for whoever is there to say come back and say listen let’s talk to people now because it appears by way of these new methods of making an assessment there is lots of oil out there and should we not then have the conversation as to whether again that we are a poor country it might not be time to think about oil exploration.”

The Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage says it welcomes the decision and commends the Prime Minister for his decisive leadership.  The Coalition views the announcement as a commitment by the Government of Belize to fully incorporate the value of our natural resources in developing a sustainable economy.  In response to a request by the Coalition, the Prime Minister has agreed that a draft bill will be provided to the Coalition in advance to allow time for comment prior to presentation in the House of Representatives in October.

Janelle Chanona, Oceana Belize:

“The coalition is now looking forward to receiving the details of the draft. I think there is an adage the devil is in the details but as far as we have been assured by the Prime Minister the detail of the draft will be exactly as he has expressed it today and on the basis of that strength we therefore look forward to reading that it will cover the territorial seas and exclusive economic activity zone and that it will mean that there will be no offshore oil activity from seismic up so we know that seismic is one of the initial phase but no concessions being leased or sold no seismic activity nothing there will be nothing as we understand it there will be no offshore oil exploration activity in Belize until some other parliament decides that they be minded to change it and I think in terms of moving forward that is really the vigilance and the commitment that the coalition would like to reiterate to the Belizean people that once this is law wonderful but it’s really to ensure that moving forward the Belizean people appreciate that they need to be vigilant and that it is never lost on any of our leaders that on this issue that has transcended time, that has transcended politics, that has transcended social status Belizeans want to be involved so I would really hope that any leader would have that full recognition in play if there is any type of indication that the law once enacted would be changed.”

The Prime Minister further committed to ensuring that the moratorium is fully legislated by November of this year.