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Hess, CNOOC don’t need separate permits- Court of Appeal

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2022, 22:25 by Denis Chabrol

Ramon Gaskin.

Outspoken activist, Ramon Gaskin is preparing to take his case to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) after the Guyana Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision that the Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited’s (EEPGL) other joint venture partners, Hess and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), in the Stabroek Block  did not need separate licences, a lawyer said.

“The Appellant Gaskin has indicated he shall seek further recourse to the Caribbean Court of Justice,” lawyers for Esso, Hess and CNOOC said in a statement.

The Attorney General’s Chambers said the local Court of Appeal ruled that Hess and CNOOC did not need separate licences to engage in oil development and production given the licence was obtained by their partner, EEPGL because they were involved in a joint venture and were covered under permissions obtained by Esso.

In so deciding, the Court of Appeal effectively dismissed Gaskin’s appeal, and upheld the decision of the Chief Justice, Roxane George, who ruled similarly in February 2020.

“The effect of the CoA’s decision is that the companies’ activities, including oil production, may continue undisturbed,” the Attorney General’s Chambers added.  The parties in the case have been ordered to bear their own costs.

Mr  Gaskin had sought orders quashing the decision of the Hon. Minister of Natural Resources to issue a petroleum production licence to the three companies Esso, Hess and CNOOC to produce petroleum, as only Esso had applied for and obtained an environmental permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Liza 1 Stabroek Block petroleum operations.

Lawyers for the companies explained that Esso,  as the operator of the Block and of petroleum operations,  had obtained the permit from the EPA.  They added that Esso had then “farmed-out” interests in the Block to Hess and CNOOC which had joined it as investors in the petroleum operations.  Gaskin had challenged the Minister’s decision to grant the licence to the three companies as he complained that only one of them (Esso) had a permit.  Gaskin contended that all three companies had to have obtained a permit or permits.  As Esso had obtained its permit first, this would have meant that an additional permit or permits would have had to be applied for and obtained by Hess and CNOOC.   The Chief Justice after hearing arguments from the Minister and the companies, had upheld the submissions by counsel for the Minister and the companies, as she ruled that the Act required that a permit must be obtained for each project.  But there need not be more than one permit per project as permits were issued for projects, and not for the persons who held them.

Mr Gaskin had also complained that the Chief Justice had taken too long to give her decision -at the time her Honour had been sitting in the No-confidence Motion cases and the further litigation that arose from those cases- and had infringed the provisions of the Time Limits for Judicial Decisions Act, which fixed a certain time for Judges to give decisions in the High Court.

The Minister and the Companies had argued that the provisions of the Act were directory and not mandatory which means that non-compliance did not result in the decisions being invalidated.  The Court of Appeal composed of the Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, and Justices of Appeal the Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud, upheld the decision of the Chief Justice in the High Court.

“They ruled that the Environmental Protection Act required that every project must have a permit issued for it. They found that under the Act, permits were issued for projects, and not for the developers who promoted the projects.  They ruled that the Liza 1 project had a permit issued for it, and therefore there was no breach of the Environmental Protection Act.  They also ruled that the provisions of the Act were directory and therefore the decision of the Hon. Chief Justice was not invalidated,” the lawyers for the companies said in a statement.

The Minister of Natural Resources was represented by Attorney General and Minister of Natural Resources, Anil Nandlall;  Attorney-at-Law Mr. Edward Luckhoo; Solicitor General Nigel Hawke; Deputy Solicitor General Mrs. Deborah Kumar,  and Attorney-at-Law Eleanor Luckhoo.

The three companies -Esso, Hess and CNOOC- were represented by Attorneys-at-Law Andrew M.F. Pollard, Nigel Hughes and Ashley Henry.

The appellant, Ramon Gaskin, was represented by Attorneys-at-Law Seenath Jairam, Melinda Janki, and Ron Motilall.

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