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Lawyers wrangle at Court of Appeal over urgency of oil contract case

Inside the Court of Appeal’s courtroom

The Court of Appeal on Tuesday began hearing arguments, though not yet substantive, on the High Court’s decision to throw out a case over whether oil companies- Hess and Nexen- are parties to the environmental permit granted to a local subsidiary of ExxonMobil to search for and extract oil offshore Guyana.

Tuesday’s hearing’s centered over a request by applicant, Ramon Gaskin, through his lawyers for the Court of Appeal to begin hearing arguments urgently against the High Court’s decision not to grant an order blocking the companies from proceeding with their exploration and production on the grounds that Hess and Nexen have not been issued separate environmental permits.

Trinidad-based Guyanese Senior Counsel, Seenath Jairam sought to convince the Appellate Judges- Dr. Arif Bulkan, Dawn Gregory, and Rafiq Khan that the Court should hear the appeal urgently because it has to do with liability for environmental impact on  Guyana. the Caribbean and neighbouring countries. “If there is an environmental disaster, God forbid, we are saying there are grave consequences not only for Guyana but the Caribbean given  where the Liza wells are near the Caribbean sea and our neighbouring countries,” he said..

Jairam assured that his side did not want to humbug economic progress, but the legal challenge is about the “genuine concern” by the public and the liability of Hess and Nexen should there be an environmental incident.

Justice Khan queried why should the case be heard urgently compared to death penalty appeals, to which Jairam countered by saying there is a moratorium on executing persons.

Representing the Ministry of Natural Resources, is Senior Counsel, Edward Luckhoo, along with the Attorney General’s Chambers. He told the judges that Gaskin’s lawyers have not provided any evidence of flaws or technically poor systems that would lead to environmental consequences. “The foundation and sub-strata for an urgent hearing have  no foundation and no basis,” he said. “In the affidavit, there is no allegation whatever of any operative functions being carried out which may lead to any environmental consequences,” he added.

Luckhoo argued that Esso is named as the sole operator, and Hess and Nexen are not carrying out any operations so there is no need for them to be granted separate environmental permits. “They are saying that Hess and Nexen are not subject to the environmental permit. That’s a mistake,” he said.

Luckhoo rejected several arguments by Gaskin’s lawyers including that the Environmental Protection Act does not apply to Hess and Nexen because they do not have a permit, and Hess and Nexen will be operating the enterprise.

After Attorneys Jairam, Luckhoo and Melinda Janki could not readily agree to the next court date, Justice Bulkan remarked that “if it is urgent, we would rather hear it in June”.

Justice Barnes then announced that June 28, 2018 at 9 AM has been set to rule on whether the case should be heard urgently. “If we say it it is urgent, we will move on to merits and hear you orally on merits,” she added.