‘Amerindians being brainwashed on benefits of Exxon’s operations’ – Region One Toshao tells oil spill forum

‘Amerindians being brainwashed on benefits of Exxon’s operations’

GEORGETOWN – The consultations hosted by oil major, ExxonMobil along the coastal communities have often been described as a tool to merely check off the boxes in the regulatory process, so that the company can receive approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move to production.
In the Indigenous communities, the process has been heavily focused on playing up money to be made from oil rather than educating the public on the potential dangers they are exposed to as a result of the offshore activities. This startling revelation was made by the Warapoka Village Toshao, Jaremy Boyal, a key speaker at an Oil Spill forum hosted by Red Thread and the Greenheart Movement, in observance of World Environment Day. This year, World Environment Day was observed under the theme ‘land restoration, desertification and drought resilience’.
The forum brought together Guyanese experts such as International award-winning Lawyer, Melinda Janki, former Head of the EPA, Dr. Vincent Adams as well as founding member of the Trinidadian non-governmental organisation ‘Fishermen and Friends of the Sea’, Gary Aboud. A number of notable Guyanese advocates for better governance of the oil and gas sector, such as Vanda and Danuta Radzik, Frederick Collins, Elizabeth Hughes and Alfred Bhulai were among those that joined the discussions at the Cara Lodge Hotel, Quamina Street, Georgetown. There was also a large virtual attendance of the session.
Boyal in his remarks said he was really appreciative of the information shared by speakers – Dr. Adams and Aboud. For his part, Dr. Adams stressed the dangers posed by ExxonMobil Guyana Limited (EMGL) by increasing oil production above the safe operating limits outlined in the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of the three projects currently producing oil. Meanwhile, Aboud, among other things, cited the fact that hydrocarbons could already be part of our diets with flow of hydrocarbons from the recently overturned vessel in Tobago.
The Village leader said, “I am really grateful for the opportunity to hear these two presenters, you could imagine we don’t have all of this information…it’s been a discussion for us, if there is an oil spill how we would be affected”.
The Toshao told the gathering that after listening to the previous speakers he was very fearful as ExxonMobil often boasts about how much profits Guyana would make and the development the country will achieve from its offshore operations. He pointed out that a research done last year concluded that Warapoka’s natural environment is intact as within six weeks 90% of all species in Guyana were recorded a presence there.
Warapoka Village is approximately 90 miles from the mouth of the Waini River; however, there are a number of other villages in close proximity, including Three Brothers, Imbotero and Morawhanna. The Toshao was keen to note: “The communities there, we survive off the natural resources, so people use the water from the creeks, from the rivers, a lot of these villages there is no running tap water; we still use ponds and lakes so we are very much dependent on the environment.”
As such he reasoned: “So thinking about that if there is an oil spill, imagine what would be the impact. It’s like losing everything and I think it’s what we do as well as a village and there’s a lot of communities now talking about eco-tourism and our product that we have is the natural environment so losing that would be losing everything as well as (our) culture because of what we depend on to survive.”
At a number of public consultations held in the past by ExxonMobil, the Toshao said he enquired about the Shell Beach protected area; however, his question has not been addressed. Oil spill modeling shows that this area can be affected by an oil spill; however, the Toshao said, “That has not been on the agenda…many times sometimes we would try to have what would be the effect, how are we playing a role if there is gonna be one, but again that is not something that we as villages are aware of.”
According to him: “We just hear one side of the story that there is so much production, that there is so much millions that we can earn in the next five, 10, 15, 20 years and the rate of development plus we are one of the fastest growing economies in the world.”
The village leader said this often appeals to the Indigenous population, especially since they are not privy to the type of information he received. During those consultations, he said for about two to three hours representatives from ExxonMobil and the EPA would provide information and allow the Toshaos to raise questions. Boyal explained however: “Most of these documents are in technical form (or language) like the Toshao and two other representatives might come but some of these leaders are not you know, highly qualified to understand very technical documents so that would definitely be a problem.”
He said topics discussed usually are “how would the drilling affect wildlife within that area as well; there is always as well the idea and the message out there that the possibility of an oil spill is almost zero so don’t worry about that.”
The Toshao said the village would often hear stories or read stories about how spills affected other countries but citizens are often afraid to speak out lest they be viewed as unqualified by their fellow villagers or even be victimised. He recalled that some years ago, the leaders were involved in a onetime oil spill response activity but even with more projects approved for the operator, there has been no further programmes to engage the community on preparation for such a disaster.
Consequently, the Village Leader said he was deeply concerned about the how the village would respond to a spill, what they would do and who would compensate them for their loss of livelihoods. “Like I said, we don’t know that and a lot villages are very close to the Waini River as well, the water would be washing up and down…I think with the little information that we have and the stories we have been hearing as well many times, if there is an oil spill and whatever likely effect is there, most of the time the people on the ground are the ones that suffer the most. The rich and the wealthy like the investors, they don’t worry about water, they will always have. The people on the ground are the ones that suffer the most and we don’t know like what the last presenter just said, we probably eating some of the stuff already coming into our system.” The Toshao therefore made an appeal for the Indigenous communities to be properly informed to participate meaningfully in any consultation activity planned by Exxon. (Kaieteur News)…[+]