CCJ throws out Gaskin’s case for all three co-venturers to have separate permits

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 June 2024, 13:52 by Writer

Ramon Gaskin

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Thursday ruled that only Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited, now known as ExxonMobil Guyana, needed a permit for the Liza 1 project rather than also its co-venturers, Hess and CNOOC Guyana.

The applicant, Ramon Gaskin, had contended that each of the three companies ought to have applied for and obtained permits. He had contended that the Minister acted unlawfully when he issued the license to all three of them when only ExxonMobil had a permit.

The CCJ upheld the Guyana High Court and Guyana Court of Appeal decisions and ruled that only one permit was required.

The CCJ heard oral arguments at the seat of the Court in Trinidad on 27 February, 2024, and on Thursday gave its ruling. It held that while a permit is required for a project, there was no need for a multiplicity of permits for the same project, and that Exxon as the sole operator, satisfied the requirements of the Act by obtaining its permit. The CCJ ruled that Hess and CNOOC are strictly financial partners who did not carry out any petroleum operations or activities and therefore are not required to obtain permits. The Minister therefore acted perfectly lawfully when he issued the licence to all three co-venturers as the operator Exxon had obtained a permit.

Attorney-at-Law Andrew Pollard

The court took the view that the time limits set out in the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Act must be construed as being of a discretionary and not mandatory nature. While a one-year delay should not be condoned, the Court had no way of knowing what objective difficulties, if any, faced the courts below.

ExxonMobil, CNOOC and Hess filed an application to be added as parties to defend their interests in the proceeding, as their licence was under threat. Gaskin objected and after hearing arguments Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire found the companies had a definite interest in the outcome of the proceeding and they were entitled to be added to the proceeding to defend their interest.

The Chief Justice dismissed the challenge in the High Court. She ruled that permits are issued for projects and as Exxon had obtained one, the Minister acted lawfully in issuing the licence to the three co-venturers.

Attorney-at-Law Edward Luckhoo

Mr Gaskin appealed to the Court of Appeal. He contended that the Chief Justice erred when she found that Exxon had satisfied the Act’s requirement for a permit for the project, and that she had breached the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Act by taking 366 days to give her decision. The Court of Appeal upheld the Chief Justice’s ruling and held that she had not breached the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Act, whereupon Gaskin appealed to the CCJ.

The Appellant Gaskin was represented by Mr. Seenath Jairam, SC, and prominent international lawyer Ms. Melinda Janki.

The Minister was represented by Mr. Edward Luckhoo, SC, with Ms. Eleanor Luckhoo, and Ms. Ronetta Sargent (of the Attorney-General’s Chambers). Exxon, CNOOC and Hess were represented by Mr. Andrew M.F. Pollard, SC, and Mr. C.A. Nigel Hughes. The EPA was represented by Mr. Sanjeev Datadin and Ms. Frances Carryl.