By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
Environmentalist Annette Arjoon has dismissed excuses offered by ExxonMobil as reasons for its “poor” consultation with residents of Region One. Exxon, the largest publicly traded oil company in the world, is claiming that it is finding communication in Guyana to be “very hard.”
In the event of an oil spill, the protected Shell Beach area in Region One is the part of Guyana most likely to be affected. Despite this, Exxon officials did not find it necessary to meet with the over 27,000 people in that region, most of whom are indigenous.
Initially, Exxon was not going to have any consultation with the residents of that Region. However, after being pressed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the company committed to consultations, but has only done two outreaches over the last few years.
Yesterday, at the oil and gas seminar held by the Private Sector Commission (PSC), ExxonMobil’s Senior Director Public and Government Affairs, Kimberly Brasington said that communication is proving to be a difficulty in Guyana.
At that very forum, Arjoon delivered a presentation, during which she highlighted that the people of Region One are vulnerable to the operations of ExxonMobil.
“So even though we are hearing these operations are 190km offshore, it really matters not, because whatever is happening offshore affects what we will have to deal with onshore.”
Arjoon said that the people of Region One have a right to a safe and healthy environment as is catered for in the Constitution of Guyana.
The Environmentalist said that the indigenous people practice sustainable lifestyle, and fishing is of critical importance to the Region One economy.
Arjoon has been working along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for at least 25 years. She said that she was “horrified” when she learned through her consultations with the EPA, that ExxonMobil was not even looking to go into Region One.
“Thankfully, the EPA held a position, and now there have been two consultations in Region One so far. But two visits cannot be defined as meaningful consultation in a region with almost 30,000 people.”
Arjoon said that ExxonMobil should be providing information to the residents of Region One, weeks in advance of a visit.
“I want to see that they get information weeks before they are even consulted with, so that they can come and participate in a productive and meaningful discussion, because it is their lifestyle and their future that will be affected. That is one of the massive things that we need to fix and need to do so sooner than later,” said Arjoon.
She continued, “The consultation has been very poor, but I know it can change.”
Brasington said, “I can echo that…”
She acknowledged Arjoon as a representative of the people of Region One.
Brasington said, “The people of Guyana are very proud… I was fortunate last week to have the opportunity to talk at the National Toshaos Council, they were all in Georgetown, and one of the main things we talked about was how do we reach and how do we do a better job at communicating.”
Brasington continued, “It is hard; it is hard enough to meet people in Region Four to get across and have meaningful discussion. It is a real challenge. It is hard to communicate in this country, but it can get better and we are going to do better.”
Brasington said that the first time ExxonMobil was asked to go to Region One, “I was like… where and how do I get there? But we learned and we were part of the conversation.
Arjoon was not accepting of the Brasington’s excuse that it is hard communicating in Guyana.
“Respectfully, it is not that hard to get messages in, thankfully with GTT and Digicel, and most of the Amerindian communities having connectivity, it has become easy to communicate.”
Arjoon said that the area, though remote, can be accessed “so let us put all of those amazing infrastructure and technology to use.”