CCJ dismisses case challenging Liza 1 petroleum production licence

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Flashback- The fuel hose leads from the Liza Destiny to the Cap Philippe for the transfer of Guyana’s first million barrels of crude

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) today dismissed a case which was filed by a private citizen, challenging the decision of Guyana’s Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat to grant a petroleum production licence to the three co-venturers in the Liza 1 Petroleum Project carried on in Guyana’s Stabroek Block offshore.

The Appellant, Ramon Gaskin, had mounted the legal challenge on the ground that the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) required that an environmental permit must be obtained for any project that would significantly affect the environment, and only ExxonMobil had obtained one, and not is co-venturers, Hess and CNOOC.

Gaskin contended that all three of the co-venturers ought to have applied for and obtained permits, and that the Minister acted unlawfully when he issued the licence to all three of them when only ExxonMobil had a permit.

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, Guyana’s Chief Justice Roxane George had 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.

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

Gaskin appealed to the Court of Appeal. He contended that the Chief Justice erred when she found that ExxonMobil 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 regional court heard oral arguments at the seat of the Court in Trinidad on February 27, and today 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 ExxonMobil as the sole operator, satisfied the requirements of the Act by obtaining its permit.

The CCJ also 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 CCJ determined that the Minister, therefore, acted perfectly lawfully when he issued the licence to all three co-venturers as the operator ExxonMobil had obtained a permit. 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.

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).

ExxonMobil, 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.