Exxon’s flaring …
– EPA can do nothing due to loopholes in permit
By Kiana Wilburg
According to the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr. Vincent Adams, the burning of associated gas by ExxonMobil on the Liza Destiny vessel, anchored some 120 miles offshore Guyana, is expected to last until mid-August.
It is the hope of Dr. Adams that the flaring would come to an end by this time since it is his understanding that the American multi-national would have received and installed a key piece of the gas compressor system that was sent to Germany to be fixed.
By that time, however, ExxonMobil would have already flared an additional one billion cubic feet of gas which would pollute the atmosphere with hundreds of toxic cancer-causing chemicals.
Pointing this out during an interview with Kaieteur News recently was head of the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Carroll Muffett.
The environmental lawyer was keen to remind that it was the EPA which revealed that ExxonMobil had already flared nine billion cubic feet of natural gas by May 20, last. Since then, the oil giant has been flaring 12 to 15 million cubic feet of gas per day. At its rate, Muffett said, “Exxon will flare another billion cubic feet of gas by mid-August–10 billion cubic feet in all–and burned the energy equivalent of nearly 1.7 million barrels of oil.”
The President of CIEL said every day this continues, ExxonMobil is releasing not only climate change-causing carbon dioxide, but toxic pollutants like sulfur dioxide, benzene and toluene with potential impacts for human health and the environment not only in Guyana itself, but in countries downwind of the Liza One Project.
Muffett said, “Exxon appears to have concluded that it can go on doing this without fear of consequence, retribution, or regulation. I think Guyana’s people should be asking the EPA–and asking themselves–is Exxon right (to do this to us)?”
One Guyanese who has questioned without fear, the actions of ExxonMobil and that of the EPA, is conservationist, Annette Arjoon-Martins.
The transparency advocate told Kaieteur News that she remains stunned that despite ExxonMobil promising the EPA that their environmentally irresponsible flaring would have ceased at the end of July, the public is being told that it is going to extend into August.
Arjoon-Martins said, “In light of the several years of us hearing how lucky Guyana is because Exxon’s exploration and production are the gold standard, I am concerned that from startup six months ago to present, their compressor equipment and its devastating malfunctioning is more akin to that of a copper standard.”
In light of the mechanical issues that led to the burning of the gas, the conservationist expressed hope that the manufacturer would be held liable for providing a defective piece of equipment to ExxonMobil, which has wreaked environmental havoc on Guyana.
She said, “…If this is indeed the case, because we have no presence offshore to confirm if it is so or not, then I am assuming that there should be some liabilities. I would like this to be looked into…I would shudder to think this could happen with another piece of similarly important piece of equipment…,” the concerned conservationist noted.
Another Guyanese who is passionate and resolute in her position on protecting the environment from the potential dangers of ExxonMobil’s operations is international lawyer, Melinda Janki. She told Kaieteur News that it is vital for all Guyanese to be aware that the burning of gas releases toxic chemicals that can harm one’s health and the environment.
And as far as she is aware, ExxonMobil’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Liza Phase One Project makes no mention of the carcinogenic impacts of the toxins released by flaring.
With this in mind, she said all Guyanese should ask how the EPA can permit ExxonMobil to emit those significant levels of carcinogenic toxins into the atmosphere.
For the safety of Guyana’s environment, Janki said that the EPA must cease making and accepting excuses from ExxonMobil and shut down the operation until it can be put under control. The lawyer said that the health and well-being of Guyana’s people and environment are more important than ExxonMobil’s desire for profit.
During an interview with Dr. Adams, he explained that the harsh reality for the EPA, the guardian of Guyana’s environment, is that it can do nothing at this point since the loopholes in the permit granted to the company, allows it to flare.
According to the permit, ExxonMobil can burn gas during the start-up period or for emergency purposes. Much to Guyana’s misfortune, there is no cap on how long the start-up period should last. The permit is also silent on what action should be taken if mechanical issues prolong the burning of gas during the start-up.
Until the language is tightened in the permit, the only thing the protector of Guyana’s environment can do at this point, is sit back, watch the air be polluted with hundreds of toxic chemicals, and perhaps hope that the flaring would indeed come to an end by mid-August.
In light of the COVID-19 restrictions on travel and the measures in place to protect offshore operations, there are no guarantees that the flaring would be over with by next month.
In the extensive research that Kaieteur News conducted, it was found that the burning of gas is extremely damaging to the environment. According to a special study conducted by the World Bank, flaring releases gases that are not only harmful to one’s health but also disastrous to the climate. The report notes that flaring releases more than 250 toxins including cancer causing agents such as benzopyrene, benzene, carbon disulphide (CS2), carbonyl sulphide (COS), and toluene. It also releases metals such as mercury, arsenic, and chromium and nitrogen oxides.
Another study that was conducted by the Suez University in Egypt agrees with the findings of the World Bank Group while adding that flaring is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
When released into the atmosphere, these gases trap heat to a significant degree. The University’s Department of Petroleum and Chemical Engineering was keen to note that flaring is also considered to be extremely harmful to the environment since it releases methane which has about 25 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide.
Other pollutants such as sulfur oxides and volatile organic components (VOC) are also released from flaring. These are considered major causes of acid rain and fog, which harm the natural environment and human life.
Taking these and other harmful environmental effects into consideration, nations such as Guyana are urged to limit and/or prohibit flaring. (SEE LINKS FOR STUDIES: http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2016/ph240/miller1/docs/emam.pdf; AND http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/193801468779650307/pdf/295520Flared0G1on0Strategy01public1.pdf)