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Guyana welcomes US solidarity on border issues; preparations continue to minimize corruption from oil, gas proceeds

Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Robert Persaud addressing participants at the workshop on Planning and Oversight of Deepwater Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration.

The Guyana government on Wednesday praised the United States (US) for standing by the South American country in staving off threats to its natural resource-rich territory, even as it pledged to improve transparency and accountability in the natural resources sector.

In apparent reference to recent aggression by Venezuela, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Robert Persaud commended the US for “being a consistent ally and having a very strong position with Guyana” on the work of external forces.

“I wish to emphasise that the US has been a very consistent and an important ally in ensuring that Guyana mobilizes the investment but also we undertake the efforts to develop our natural resources even in light and even in the face of some unjustified and unwarranted attempts by some external forces who seek to push back our efforts in first exploring but also developing our natural resources both offshore as well as onshore,”  he told the opening of a workshop at the Guyana Marriott on Planning and Oversight of Deepwater Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration.

Venezuela has twice written to the local subsidiary of American oil giant, Exxon-Mobil, expressing grave concern about that company’s exploratory drilling for oil offshore Guyana, saying that it is part of Venezuela’s territory. About two years ago, the Venezuelan Navy intercepted a seismic research vessel, Teknik Perdana, while it was working in a concession awarded by Guyana to a US company, Anadarko.

Exxon-Mobil’s oil exploration rig, Deepwater Champion, is currently offshore drilling an exploratory well in search of oil in commercial quantities. Persaud expects the company to make known its findings in another few weeks.

Wednesday’s workshop is the latest in a series of US-funded fora aimed by the Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative (EGCI) to help boost Guyana’s technical and human resource capacity aimed at strengthening laws and regulations for an emerging oil and gas industry.

Charge D’Affaires of the US Embassy in Guyana, Bryan Hunt cautioned that poor sector governance and resulting lack of economic development can engender corruption, mismanagement and conflict creating a cycle of underdevelopment from which it can be difficult to escape.

“It is important, therefore, for countries who are entering into the oil and gas production business to put systems in place to avoid these problems before production starts and money begins to flow which is why I am so pleased that the Government of Guyana has chosen to engage early with international donors  in order to begin to develop such systems,” said Hunt.

The Natural Resources Minister announced that Guyana has submitted a report on the natural resources sector to the Norway-headquartered Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) as part of preparations to join that global watchdog.  He said  the country’s National Upstream Gas and Oil Policy, laws and regulations are being modernized and would be tabled in the National Assembly after the <ay 11, 2015 general elections. Among the considerations, he said, is the management of revenue from the natural resources sector.  “We have already started to engage a number of experts in reviewing our legislation but also developing appropriate legislation that is required to look at all aspects including the issue of revenue management- how do we manage revenue, how do we ensure that generations to come can enjoy potentially and once get a significant discovery ensuring that we are adequately prepared to undertake those flows,” he said.

The top American diplomat here went to great lengths to point out that that natural resource extraction “ makes this sector particularly prone to corruption and mismanagement.”  The US has been sharing its experiences on science, environmental analyses, public input, safety, rigorous oversight and enforcement within the US and other countries. “In this sector, one thing makes itself clear again and again: Transparent management of the energy sector is crucial to open governance, helping bring the benefits from the energy resources to the citizens of the countries where they are found as well as improving the stability and reliability of all energy producers is a clear priority for the United States at home and abroad,” he said.

Experts from the US Department of Interior’s Bureaus of Ocean Energy Management, and Safety and Environmental Enforcement will cover topics on technical and environmental planning before offshore blocks are leased, monitoring industry operations and enforcing environmental safety regulations.