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Guyana’s government faces a lawsuit from two citizens who hope to end offshore drilling by ExxonMobil and other large oil companies exacerbating the climate crisis.
Quadad de Freitas filed the case, a 21-year old Indigenous tourist guide from the Rupununi region, and Dr. Troy Thomas, a university professor and former president of the anti-corruption organization Transparency Institute Guyana.
The claimants say that Guyana’s approval of oil exploration licenses violates the government’s legal obligation to protect their right and the right of future generations to a clean environment, constituting the first constitutional climate case in the Caribbean to challenge fossil fuel production on human rights grounds.
The multibillion-dollar Stabroek exploration block off the coast of Guyana is a joint venture between ExxonMobil, Hess Corporation, and a subsidiary of the China National Offshore Oil Company. ExxonMobil predicts at least eight bn barrels of crude oil lie under the sea, as well as trillions of cubic feet in natural gas.
It is ExxonMobil’s largest oil development outside of the U.S. Permian Basin, and the company started producing oil there in late 2019. The country expects Liza-2 to begin in early 2022, while an approved investment in a third project, Payara, began last year.
Guyanese activists previously challenged the government’s approval of drilling licenses because only one of the joint-venture partners had an environmental permit, yet the judge ruled against the campaigners.
Campaigners demand the court declare that the government’s constitutional duties require it to stop authorizing activities contributing to climate change, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise.
BREAKING: Guyanese citizens have filed a constitutional court case that challenges offshore oil drilling on the grounds that it exacerbates global warming and threatens human rights.
— Center for International Environmental Law (@ciel_tweets)
May 21, 2021
According to Melinda Janki, who represents the claimants in court: “This is a classic public interest case. In 2001-02 I lobbied the Guyanese government very hard to put the right to a healthy environment in the constitution. It’s in the interests of everyone to know what the law means, whether this oil production amounts to a violation of the right to a healthy environment. It’s then going to be up to the government to decide what actions to take.”
Janki said there had been significant pressure on Guyana to produce oil accompanying a narrative that it would bring the country great wealth, “which is not borne out by the facts," she said.
Despite committing not to fund fossil fuel extraction directly, the World Bank has facilitated Guyana’s entry into the world of oil exports, helping the country draft petroleum legislation in the 1980s – well before the discovery of any reserves – and more recently funding a legal firm that regularly worked for ExxonMobil to rewrite those laws.