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Minister of State opens workshop for oil-related disaster preparedness

Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, today, officially opened the Incident Command System (ICS) Workshop for oil-related disaster preparedness, organised by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), and facilitated by representatives from ExxonMobil. The opening ceremony was held at the CDC Headquarters, Thomas Road, Georgetown. The six-day training course will be split up into two parts. Part one is the ICS Workshop, which will allow participants to define their agency’s roles while developing an organised structure for disaster response. Part two is the Oil Spill Response Course, which will provide a more practical approach to oil spill response.

Minister Harmon, in his remarks, said that the workshop targets agencies, which will be instrumental in the timely and organised response to the unlikely eventuality that there is such a disaster and is aimed at ensuring that Guyana is fully prepared to mitigate its effects.

“These Incident Command [System] and [Oil Spill] Response training courses… are for representatives of the agencies that have been identified in the draft National Oil Spill Response Plan as key stakeholders, who will be involved and should, therefore, be important elements… in the unlikely event of an oil spill… These courses are part of Government’s partnership with ExxonMobil to create an enabling environment for persons to benefit from various forms of training, relevant to the oil and gas sector. They are very important capacity building exercises that will enable us to respond promptly and adequately with [synchrony] to oil spills and other adverse occurrences,” he said.

The Minister of State said that while the potential negative effects of an emerging oil and gas sector are concerning, capacity building sessions like these will help to safeguard the environment and mitigate risks. “These issues are of major concern to us as a nation and as a Government given our emphasis on creating and maintaining a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment within the context of our thrust to establish a ‘green’ economy and a ‘green’ state… We, therefore, look forward to the production of first oil… but we are equally, if not more concerned, about the preservation of our environment, the integrity of our coastline, and the safety of our marine resources. Therefore, even as we place a great emphasis on safety and prevention and mitigation of oil spills and their related consequences, we have to pay greater attention to these things not occurring,” he said.

In closing, Minister Harmon said that Government also remains committed to the development of the oil and gas sector in an environment of transparency and openness and the delivery of accurate and complete information to the public. “The skills that you will acquire… and your ability to apply them may at some time in the future be of crucial importance to the protection of our environment… The Government is keenly aware of the interests and, in some cases, the unease that our citizenry [has] in and about the possibilities and consequences of oil spills… These concerns are compounded by the uninformed and inaccurate information… being pedalled in some sections of the media about our efforts or lack of efforts to prepare for these eventualities. I, therefore, wish to urge the agencies involved here today in these preparation exercises to keep the public fully informed of these and future similar activities. I trust that we do not ever have to put the skills that you will learn here today into practice,” he said.

Country Manager of Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), Mr. Rod Henson said statistically speaking, it is unlikely that Guyana will experience an oil spill. “We believe at ExxonMobil that you can never have enough training… The time of an emergency, [is] not the time to learn. That’s the time to act… I hope you understand [that] we at ExxonMobil and our contractors go to great lengths to ensure that there is no oil spill, to ensure that that never happens. Significant spills are extremely rare and, statistically, it is very unlikely that there would be a large spill in Guyana. However, to be prudent, we have to be prepared,” he said.

In an invited comment, Mr. Henson added that the benefits of Guyana’s imminent oil and gas sector still far outweigh the risks. “What’s happening in Guyana is very positive. These oil finds, I believe, are going to benefit the country to improve the quality of life, but it can’t be at any cost… at ExxonMobil, we’re doing everything we can to ensure that [an oil spill] doesn’t happen. We have multiple redundancies in our equipment. We have well trained people… We have… contracts with absolutely every piece of equipment that exists in the world today that would help deal [with] a response and we have contracts with the best experts in the world as well,” he said.

Invited to give remarks in the absence of Minister of Natural Resources, Mr. Raphael Trotman, Deputy Director of the Petroleum Division, Mr. Nicholas Chuck-A-Sang assured the participants that oil response is a national agenda. “The Ministry of Natural Resources’ primary mandate is in the area of policy. That includes legislation, area of regulations, and one of the important pillars is also protection of the environment and oil spill response… Oil response is a national agenda. It is something that all the agencies; Government agencies… [and the] civil society… [have] a very loud voice in driving things forward [and] ensuring [that] there are watch dogs in this area,” he said.

Acting Director General of the CDC, Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig said that the training sessions ensures that all stakeholders submit to the same response protocol in case of an emergency. “The course provides the operational environment for coordination of effort, so that all responders are using the same standardised terminology, interoperable technologies, organisational structure and management techniques. This allows any responder to have a common expectation and understanding of how agencies and departments will organise when working together in response to an incident. This commonality of knowledge, structure, and function provides a level of functionality that is able to expand and interact as the needs of the situation demands,” he said.

In an invited comment, Colonel Craig added that the wide cross section of agencies represented by the participants is crucial as it will influence the outcome of the National Oil Spill Response Plan. “If there’s an oil spill, it will impact several sectors and we must have a coordinated response. All agencies must be aware of their roles and responsibilities… All of the agencies are part of the… National Oil Spill Contingency Plan Committee and that committee is responsible for drafting, finalising, exercising, and implementing the oil spill plan… So when the team goes [on] to draft the… plan… they will be well aware of what is required,” she said.

The workshop hosted 26 representatives from 21 agencies including the Ministries of Natural Resources, Legal Affairs, Public Infrastructure, Agriculture, Public Health and Foreign Affairs, as well as the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), and Guyana Civil Aviation Authority. Part two of the workshop will and be held at Splashmins Resort from April 26 – 28.

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