San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Belize

Offshore drilling could threaten Belize's Great Blue Hole

From space it just looks like a dark blotch, a circular blemish on an otherwise smooth blue surface off the coast of Belize. The spot is actually a 124-meter sinkhole, a UNESCO heritage site known as the Great Blue Hole.

It is considered one of the top dive sites in the world, and in the near future it could be vulnerable to offshore drilling.

A proposal recently made public by the country’s Ministry of Energy would allow for offshore oil exploration in 99 percent of Belize’s waters, including protected marine areas and world heritage sites. The proposal has alarmed environmental groups and UNESCO, which have pointed out the potential damage drilling could cause to the country’s vital reef systems.

“The Belize Barrier Reef system provides hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and guaranteed economic benefits via tourism, fishing and storm surge protection,” Janelle Chanona, from the U.S.-based conservation group Oceana, said in a statement. “Those hundreds of millions of dollars cannot be dismissed in favor of the mere potential of anything else.”

Home to the second-largest coral reef in the world and renowned beaches, Belize relies on tourism for up to a quarter of its GDP. Environmental experts warn that even the smallest oil spill could devastate the country’s waters, endangering both tourism and the fishing industry.

The new plan comes on the heels of a 2013 supreme court decision that invalidated all past offshore drilling licenses in Belizean waters. The judge ruled that the licenses did not employ sufficiently strict safety or environmental standards and noted that many of the companies awarded contracts did not have backgrounds in engineering or oil extraction.

Despite the ruling, many in the Belizean government have continued to push for oil extraction with an eye on the potential economic benefits. The current proposal is just a draft and carries no legal weight, but the policy could be formalized by the end of the year.

Activists have already begun to rally against the plan, pointing out Belize’s recent blunders with overzealous development projects. In 2013 a company bulldozed one of the country’s largest Mayan pyramids to gather rocks for a road project.

Contact Lindsay Fendt at lfendt@ticotimes.net

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DonnaCanuck

Oh dear., it seems some people have not given this much thought. Oil supplies are so high at this time in history that oil prices are at all time low. Costs for extraction, equipment, labour, etc….cannot possibly turn a profit or would have a short lifespan before having to be shut down. Look at the economic woes of Venezuela due to low oil prices. Saudis Arabia has been pumping full steam ahead creating the glutten of surplus of supply. The Americans have worked hard to create self reliance on oil needs and Canada certainly doesn’t need anyone else’s oil. Rig after rig is being shut down due to low value of oil. The world does not need anymore suppliers. When any business is overrun by too many competitors and over abundance of product, the business is not sustainable. What ends up happening is….forced to shut operations, many workers if not all are no longer employed, beautiful landscapes which were destroyed to create roadways or buildings to support the off shore rigs are abandoned. How about a government who says…not in our backyard. We’ve got a for sure economical product here, provided free of charge by Mother Nature and all she asks in return is to protect her. To me, that is a hell of a good deal and the best business partner you could have. Foster this relationship with good., no…great ideas that will bring the economic profitability up without cutting off the hands that has provided you the livelihoods you currently enjoyed. That’s no way to treat your faithful partner. Belize is unique…but, start plopping industrial equipment, rigs etc…it will just be an eyesore, will probably be abandoned by tourists and hell even residents, not too mention the enormous slap in the face to your free economic partner….Mother Nature.

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Carlos Alberto Calvo

That’s shit

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