Oil, the environment, and the Caribbean

Oil rig. Image credit: Marianne Muegenburg Cothern
Oil and gas

A thought-provoking article from David Jessop about the environmental risks of petroleum exploration and extraction in the Caribbean:

For some time now, small but very active national environmental organisations with popular support have been arguing that the region’s fragile eco-system, its bio-diversity, as well as its dependence on tourism, do not suit it to hydrocarbon exploration or extraction. They suggest too that it sits uneasily with the Caribbean’s high profile global stance on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainability.

In a demonstration of the power of local and international lobbying, Belize, at the start of this year, placed a permanent moratorium on oil exploration and mineral extraction in its offshore waters.

The decision, unanimously endorsed by the country’s legislature, recognises the need to protect its fragile barrier reef, which has the status of a world heritage site and is a major tourist attraction. It followed years of national and international lobbying, legal challenges, the involvement of some of the world’s leading environmental organisations, and the participation of high-profile celebrities.

For a small economy, this is a significant political and economic step as it sets aside the possibility of substantial future revenues from oil. It suggests that the country’s future growth will now depend on tourism, agriculture, fisheries, and enlarging its services sector, while maximising the use of hydropower, biomass and waste for energy.

It has the effect of placing Belize in a regional category of one, while shining a light on others in the region hoping to benefit from offshore oil and gas.

[T]he issue of offshore oil, gas and other minerals beneath the Caribbean Sea is likely over time to become more contentious.

New finds raise questions and ambiguities about sustainability, climate change, renewables, the role of multinationals, corporate responsibility and much more. They are also likely to influence international relations, and at worst drive confrontation or conflict.

Understandably, the Governments of the region want to reap the economic and social benefit from what may lie beneath their territorial waters. However, they are likely to come under increasing pressure from growing numbers of concerned citizens, environmental activists, the young, those like fisherfolk whose livelihoods depend on unpolluted seas, and the tourism industry.

Caribbean politicians need to do much more to explain how they intend to manage the future balance between much needed growth, hydrocarbon extraction, and the region’s fragile ecology.

The full article is definitely a recommended read.


[Image credit: Marianne Muegenburg Cothern]

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