ExxonMobil, Guyana govt want to join High Court case to revoke EPA’s gas-to-shore permit

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 May 2023, 18:08 by Denis Chabrol

ExxonMobil’s Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL) and the Guyana government have asked the High Court to be parties to a case brought by two civil society activists to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revoke the gas-to-shore permit on the basis that that the company has not shown that it has the legal right to use the land for that purpose.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall said government has a right to be heard in the case because the US$1.7 billion gas to energy project could be jeopardised. “The government of Guyana, Your Honour,  certainly has an interest that is equal to any in this matter. The permit affects the proceeding forward of a $1.7 billion gas to shore project,” he said. He cautioned that several breaches of tangential and connected contracts. “If there is any leeway in this project going forward, we are going to be severely affected,” he said.

The High Court has adjourned the case to June 16, 2023. The gas to energy and natural gas liquid plants are to be built at Wales, West Bank Demerara.

In seeking orders for relief under the Judicial Review Act, applicants Vanda Radzik and Elizabeth Deane-Hughes want the High Court to quash the EPA’s decision made on November 25, 2022 to award an environmental permit to EEPGL, ExxonMobil’s local subsidiary, to undertake the gas to energy project.

Through their lawyers Abiola Wong-Inniss, Melinda Janki and Joel Ross, the applicants said according to the Environmental Protection Authorisations regulations, an application for an environmental authorisation must contain “proof that the applicant either owns the facility or has a lease or other agreement with the landowner  or occupier to enable the applicant to conduct the activity on the facility or has the legal right or ability to conduct the activity without the consent of the landowner or occupier.” Attorney General said government has entered into millions of dollars in agreements to compulsorily acquire lands.

Before Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry, Ms Wong-Inniss said she was not opposed to the EEPGL and the Guyana government intervening but that they must be limited to written submissions as they issue before the court is a “very narrow one”. “That is whether there has been compliance by the EPA… and it prescribes what the documents are to be submitted to the EPA for the grant of the permits,” the lawyer said. She said going beyond that would amount to abuse of the court’s resources and ultimately prolonging the matter.”

The judge gave Attorney Wong-Inniss up to May 18th to file an affidavit in response to EEPGL and the Guyana’s government’s applications to become parties in the case, while EEPG’s lawyers Andrew Pollard and Edward Luckhoo have until May 25 to respond if necessary.

Attorney General Nandlall stressed the importance of backing up his legal arguments with evidence or it would make no sense. “I can’t make submissions on a particular issue if the evidence is not there soo allowing me only to set out the law and I don’t have the evidential basis to speak, my friend can properly object and throw out my entire submission,” he said.

Mr Luckhoo highlighted that the Judicial Review Act said anyone who has an interest in a party has a right to be made a party rather than say a “small piece”. In this instance, he said the applicants were seeking to take away Esso’s permit and similarly the Attorney General has a right because of the role that the government is playing in the project. “The person who holds the permit- there is no other person with a greater interest.. You don’t shut a person out who has a right to be heard and put them and place them on the periphery. You can say something but you can’t file a defence,” he said.

Radzik and Deane-Hughes said in court papers that despite that regulation, Esso’s application dated June 24, 2021 includes details of the project site, the proposed route of pipelines and the areas to be used and affected by the project. They said that application includes references to residential, commercial and state-owned properties but “fails to include or provide proof of ownership, a lease or other agreement with the landowners of the said areas as required by regulations…”

The court documents state that the EPA’s permit granted to EEPGL is valid until November 24, 2027 and the gas to energy project entails the installation and operation of riser tie-ins at two Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessels for supply of gas; subsea equipment, offshore pipeline and onshore pipeline.

The applicants note that it was only in January, 2023 that Public Works Minister Juan Edghill passed orders to acquire lands for the purpose of the project.

Ms Radzik and Ms Deane -Hughes said their lawyer Ms Janki wrote to EPA Executive Director Khemraj Parsram, pointing 0ut the alleged violation of the regulations and requesting that the Environmental Permit issued to Esso be revoked and that the application process be restarted in compliance with the regulations” but they received no answer.