Full tank of Risks off the Coast of Guyana

20 Jun 2012

Shell, the black gold ogre loiters off the coast of Guyana. The drilling vessel Stena IceMax, just passed off the coast of Cap in South Africa and is making its way towards Guyana. The first of Shell’s four new exploratory oil drillings should begin June 19th on the other side of the South Atlantic. The dossier is still not complete; the decree from Guyana’s Prefect on the preliminary dispositions for work and the prevention of marine pollutions still has not been signed. There is cause for concern and to suspend the prefects signing.

The impact assessment of the Creocean Cabinet addresses exclusively the normal functioning of oil drilling. The degraded situations or frequent accidents in ultra-deep drilling are proving oil spills difficult to control. The four drills taking place in the French Exclusive Economic Zone off the coast of Guyana cover 130,000 km2. The depth of the first drilling reached 1,970 meters to the seafloor and 4,330 meters under marine sediments.

However minimal, the study of Shell/ Creocean proves that even if everything goes well, it will be dammaging for a fragile marine environment, productive and relatively unpolluted.

For one rig, the first phase will spread around the wellhead 200 tons of drilling sludge and the circle of contamination will be visible up to 500 meters. The principal trouble- maker is the barium mixed in with oil fluids. For the second phase of drilling, the excavation and used fluids will be thrown back from the vessel by “successive releases”; the same method of immersion as for dredging sludge. The sum of rejected contaminants in the sea is evaluated at 345 kg of barium, 174 kg of petroleum, 13 kg of lead; a amount of mercury catastrophic for marine food chains was also announced: 678 kg. To help swallow that pill, Creocean insists on the fact that virtually all pollutants will be uniformly divided on the ocean floors and won’t spread in the water column. The impacted surface will be at minimum 10,000km2. In opposition of Creocean, Robin des Bois believes that this disturbance of an industrial origin will be harmful to the sanitary state and for the reproductive capacities of benthic fauna described in the impact assessment as “rich, diversified, and largely widespread”.

At the end of the second phase of drilling, it is intended to do tests of pumping liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon. The produced waters will be rejected in the sea after treatment on the oil drilling vessels. The impact assessment does not specify the rejected quantities nor the residual contents of hydrocarbon. The pumping tests will last five days and emit everyday a CO2 equivalent of 265,000 cars, i.e. 2,300 tons. By comparison, the automobile park of Cayenne rejects 155 tons of CO2 per day. Other atmospheric pollutants rejected by the flare of oil drilling vessels- sulfur, heavy metals, hydrocarbons- are not quantified nor, of course are their effects on birds or fishermen in the area. According to the Montego Bay Convention on International Law of the Sea, France has the obligation to protect biodiversity in its Exclusive Economic Zone. In addition to the fish and shrimp there are marine mammals, tortoises, and seabirds like the endangered yellow-nosed albatross. One cannot count on the Polmar-Guyana plan (anti-pollution response plan) to defend the waters and the Guyanese coast. Its only concern comes from the tankers that pass off the coast and supplies South America; it does not know of the oil spills that come from petroleum exploration or exploitation.

Shell has not proved its capacity to quickly stop and confine accidental oil spills. Shell did not find another way to manage its waste from exploration and experimental pumping other than to dump it at sea. Until Shell finds solutions and proves their feasibility, the only option for the French government is to confirm “the overhaul” of Shell’s permit in Guyana, resist the pressure from Stena IceMAX that is approaching Cayenne. In these insufficient conditions of environmental security, France should refuse to rejoin Brazil who imprudently let ultra-deep offshore petroleum drilling prosper and regularly unlatch oil spills.







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