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Venezuela’s military incursion forces ExxonMobil to stop seismic data gathering

ExxonMobil’s Stabroek Block concession offshore Guyana.

The Norwegian company, Petroleum Geo-Services, has stopped 3-D seismic oil exploration activities offshore Guyana closer to the Venezuelan border after the Venezuelan military intercepted the vessel on Saturday, ExxonMobil said.

“At this time, seismic operations on the Stabroek Block offshore Guyana have been paused until they can be safely continued. Our main concern is for the safety of crew members and others in the area,” ExxonMobil said. The company said it began gathering 3-D seismic data from the western end of the Stabroek Block.

PGS was contracted by ExxonMobil was contracted to conduct the operations at the western end of the Stabroek Block. Official sources said a Venezuelan military helicopter attempted to land on the unnamed seismic vessel that was at the time located about 50 miles from the border.

Senior Vice President IR & Corporate Communications at PGS, Bard Stenberg told Demerara Waves Online News, “Our vessel, the Ramform Tethys, was approached by Venezuelan navy earlier today when it was working on a project offshore Guyana. We are operating in Guyana under the authority of the Guyana government and has all necessary permits to perform this survey. The vessel has now stopped seismic acquisition and is heading East.We are working to get more clarity of the situation. The safety and well-being of the crew onboard the vessel is our first priority.

Seismic vessel, Ramform Tethys, that was intercepted by Venezuela’s Navy in Guyana’ waters offshore Essequibo

That location is also offshore the Essequibo Region that Venezuela claims as hers. Guyana has successful gotten the United Nations Secretary General to send the controversy over the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award to the International Court of Justice for settlement. However, Venezuela has refused to participate in those proceedings, saying the court lacks jurisdiction and that the two countries should instead settle the controversy bilaterally, a 50-year old process that Guyana says it is tired of.

The sources said the Venezuelan Navy had wanted to escort the seismic vessel to Venezuela, but from all accounts it appeared as though the it was heading back in an easterly direction in the hope of diffusing the situation.

ExxonMobil said it was “in communication with the necessary authorities”. However, Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Patrick West said he had no information to provide to the media and whenever that becomes available, it would be dispatched through the Public Affairs Department.

Neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Ministry of the Presidency offered a comment on the issue, a strong indication that the Guyana Defence Force appeared to have been caught off guard by the incident.

All of the commercially viable oil wells, with a total of 5 billion barrels of oil equivalent, are located offshore the Guyanese county of Berbice.

In October 2013, the Venezuelan Navy had intercepted a Malaysia-owned seismic vessel, Teknik Perdana, that had been gathering seismic data for the Texas-headquartered Anadarko Petroleum.