Last Updated on Friday, 16 December 2022, 17:03 by Denis Chabrol
The High Court on Friday ruled that the France-headquartered Schlumberger, a global provider of products and services to ExxonMobil’s operations in Guyana, must stop storing, using and possessing radioactive materials at its facility at Houston, East Bank Demerara.
Justice Nareshwar Harnanan, in handing down his decision, agreed with the plaintiffs that the environmental permits awarded by the Guyana government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to construct a radioactive materials storage facility was unlawful and in breach of its statutory obligations.
The Court said Schlumberger would only be allowed to resume storage of radioactive materials and related operations at its Houston location if it obtains a lawfully issued permit in keeping with the Environmental Protection Act.
Justice Nareshwar Harnanan ON the afternoon of Friday 16th December, 2022 ordered the quashing by certiorari of an environmental permit issued by the EPA on 9th June, 2021 in favour of Schlumberger permitting Schlumberger to construct a radioactive substances and materials storage and calibration facility at lot 1 Area X Houston on the East Bank of Demerara. The High Court judge declared that the decision of the EPA to not conduct an environmental impact assessment into the effects of the construction of the facility was illegal, ultra vires, unreasonable, irrational for breaching the Environmental Protection Act, Cap.20:05.
The permit was issued by the EPA on January, 2022 that permitted Schlumberger to operate its radioactive substances and materials storage and calibration facility and to possess, use and store radioactive materials at Schlumberger’s main location.
The judge made an order that the costs were to be paid by the Respondents to the Applicants but said costs were to be assessed before being granted unless they could be agreed to among the parties.
This came after attorneys-at-law – Mr Siand Dhurjon, Ronald Burchsmith and Malene Alleyne – on 14th February, 2022 launched a lawsuit on behalf of three environmental activists and residents who live nearby the radioactive facility: Vanda Radzik, Danuta Radzik and Raphael Singh. The lawsuit named and sued the EPA, the Environmental Assessment Board and Schlumberger Guyana Inc.
On 19th January, this year Schlumberger was approved by the EPA without any inkling of a notice given to the public to Use, store and possess radioactive materials at its facility at lot 1 Area X , Houston, beside the East bank demerara public road. The public was not given any notice that such a permit was under consideration or sought at all by the EPA.
However, on 11th April, 2022, the EPA had given notice to the public in the newspapers that Schlumberger wanted to construct a building to house the radioactive materials and that the construction process would not require an environmental impact assessment. Upon seeing this dozens of residents of the East Bank formally objected to the waiver of the need for an environmental impact assessment into the construction process on the grounds that an EIA was inherently necessary and that radioactive materials should not be used and located in close proximity to schools, neighbourhoods, a main thoroughfare, the demerara river, etc.
The EPA had convened a meeting with the said residents and their attorneys, Mr Dhurjon and Ms. Vidushi Persaud-McKinnon. The EPA assured that this was only for the construction aspect of the undertaking by Schlumberger and that they would get a better opportunity to speak on the merits and demerits of the actual radioactive storage facility’s operation when Schlumberger seeks an application for same.
Under section 11 of the Environmental Protection Act Cap.20:05, any project that may significantly affect the environment requires an environmental impact assessment and such an assessment requires publication in the newspapers of the intended project and consultations with the public.
On 14th February, 2022 Three environmental activists and residents who live nearby the radioactive facility, Vanda Radzik, Danuta Radzik and Raphael Singh sued the EPA and Schlumberger Guyana Inc through their attorneys – Mr Siand Dhurjon, Ronald Burch-Smith and Malene Alleyne. According to public court documents their lawyers had sued for an order of certiorari to quash the construction permit handed by the EPA to Schlumberger and an order of injunction to prevent Schlumberger from continuing any construction of the facility.
“However, to the surprise of the residents, the EPA responded in defence of Schlumberger’s facility by Affidavit dated 28th March, 2022 that construction of the radioactive facility was completed and that they had already permitted Schlumberger to use, possess and store radioactive substances at the facility since 26th January, 2022. The EPA submitted that the orders sought – to quash the construction permit – ought not be granted since both construction had completed and operation had already begun,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.
The residents were thereafter granted an amendment by Justice Harnanan to seek orders targeting the operation of the facility, the use, storage and possession of radioactive materials by Schlumberger.
Schlumberger has stated in its affidavit filed with the that court at paragraphs 16 and 18 that the reason the public did not need any notice that the EPA was considering a radioactive materials usage, possession and storage permit sought was the EPA was satisfied that there would be no substantial impact on the environment and that the likely impact on the environment was not unclear. The EPA has joined Schlumberger in their defence and has contended in para. 15 of its affidavit filed with the court that the reason the public was not given any notice that the EPA was considering a radioactive materials usage, possession and storage permit sought by Schlumberger was that it was clear that the project would not affect the environment.
However, the residents maintain that the use and storage of radioactive materials at Houston could significantly impact the environment and should be moved to a less populated area.
Schlumberger was represented by law office Hughes, Fields and Stoby, the EPA was represented by Shareefah Parks and Frances Carryl and the residents were represented by Siand Dhurjon, Ronald Burch-smith and Malene Alleyne.