The statutory 60-day scrutiny process for ExxonMobil and partners offshore Yellowtail Project in the Stabroek Blocks recently came to an end but questions about the work of consultancy firm and local affiliate of the United Kingdom-headquartered Environmental Resources Management (ERM) remain unanswered.
How could ERM have conducted a credible EIA Study according to the Environmental Protection Act within a month from the issuance of Final Terms and Scope? A number of citizens demanded a re-do for the Yellowtail Project’s impact survey. They wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency (EAB) and requested that it be re-examined.
The sequence of events that led to the company completing the Environmental Impact Assessment Document (ERM) was followed by their questioning of ERM.
The EEPGL applied to the Environmental Permit for Yellowtail Development on April 1, 2021. The EPA stated that an EIA was required on May 9, 2021. ERM was approved by the EPA as the consultant firm to conduct the study on June 28, 2021. The final Terms and Scope of the Yellowtail Development Environmental Impact Assessment were issued by the EPA on September 10, 2021. The ERM submitted its EIA report for the 60-day public scrutiny process. This began on October 15, 2021. Citizens wrote.
The scope and terms of the Development EIA’s work have not been made public.
The Stabroek News reached the company at 210 New Market Street in North Cummingsburg, Georgetown. They told us to email Todd Hall and Camilo Gona. A request for an interview was made via email. Tim Cooper, the Global Director of Communications, replied to the email and asked the newspaper what it was interested in. Cooper replied with, “Thanks for your interest” in ERM. At this point, I don’t think this is possible. [the interview]It is something worth pursuing, but that could change. We may be able to reconnect in the New Year, once the holidays are over and people have resumed work.
Citizens questioning ERMs’ work pointed out that the public relies upon knowledge of the Final Terms & Scope for Yellowtail DEIA in order to make an informed decision about the adequacy and usefulness of the EIA presented. Without this, the 60-day public comments period would be pointless. They claimed that the Terms and Scope for the DEIA could not be found anywhere. Contrary to common professional practice, it was not disclosed by ERM in the EIA submitted.
Why is this information being withheld by EEPGL and ERM, the EPA’s firm, and the public? Stabroek News received the letters asking them these questions.
They argued that the EAB could not consider that the current 60-day period of public scrutiny for this EIA is valid if the Final Terms and Scope remain secret from the public.
In fact, we believe that the entire process was a failure. We call on the EAB for it to be declared null and void and to rescind EEPGL’s application for Environmental Authorisation. The ERMs professional ability, ethics, independence from EEPGL are seriously doubted. This is evident in the low-quality EIA study, which lacked original research on the impacts. It also shows the contempt ERM has shown for Guyanaans by compiling a lengthy EIA document in a month, without even disclosing the Terms and Scope for works.
ERM Guyana Inc is a subsidiary of ERM UK, a multinational consultancy company that provides services in sustainability and health. Guyana is not listed as a country where the firm has a subsidiary.
This newspaper could not find a website for the company, and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry lists a global website under the company’s profile.
The company claims that it works for ExxonMobil, but the list does not include ExxonMobil projects. In 2016, ExxonMobil hired ERM to help Guyana obtain its first offshore environmental approval for the Liza Phase 1 development project. This project is expected to produce the country’s first oil in 2020.
ERM has been ExxonMobil’s leading environmental and social consultancy since then. ERM works alongside Guyanese environmental firms and local experts for future Guyana offshore developments. According to the website, the Environmental and Social Impact Assessments of these projects included extensive, multiyear and multi-year field studies that characterized the baseline conditions along the coast and as far offshore as 200 km for birds, fish, and ecosystem services.
According to the company, its approach to the project was to use technology throughout the process to ensure accurate, timely, and safe results.
The team was able to create real-time field data analytics using specially modified tablets. Local team members were able, thanks to their connections with geospatial experts located in ERM offices to perform extensive and precise coastal mapping. This was crucial to the integrity and socioeconomic studies.
These included: The Turtle Tagging and Telemetry Program in partnership with Guyana Environmental Protection Agency and Protected Areas Commission. [which]A wealth of new data was provided by The Ecosystem Services Study on Guyana’s at-sea nesting green and leatherback torts. [which]This study documented the relationship between local ecosystems and human populations. It was the first of its kind to be carried out coast-wide in Guyana. Participated were over 700 community leaders, members and staff.
The Coastal Sensitivity Analysis also exists. [which]The environmental receptors along Guyana’s 427 km coastline were measured and mapped. These included over 59,000 hectares in coastal mangroves. Coastal Bird Studies also included data collection at more than 100 predetermined survey points, stretching from Suriname to Venezuela. Five surveys resulted in the observation of 230 species and more than 69,000 birds. Nine of these were recorded as bird species with global and regional conservation importance.
ERM also states that it did Marine Bird Studies. [which]Included the first offshore bird surveys in Guyanese waters. Seven bird species that were not previously known in Guyana were documented by the nine surveys. The number of confirmed bird species found offshore Guyana increased from 28 to 35 thanks to the data from the surveys.
Also mentioned is a study on fishes. The Nearshore and Offshore Fisheries Study was also mentioned. It was the first fish study in Guyanese waters for over 50 years. During the surveys, several species never before recorded in Guyana’s waters were discovered.
In late July last year, the company announced that it had entered into an agreement with Environmental Management Consultants (EMC), which was founded by Shyam Nakta, who had close ties with the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic.
EMC would then also announce the partnership, stating that it was formed to formalize the relationship among the two entities to provide socioeconomic and environmental support in Guyana with a special focus on the oil-and-gas industry.
ERM and EMC share a long history of collaboration. The organizations most recently collaborated in a number a environmental impact assessments for new Guyana oil and gas development, as well as a variety of multi-year socioeconomic and environmental studies.
According to EMCs then Managing director, Quoting Nokta, the company’s current website, “As Guyanas oil-and-gas sector grows and expands it is important that international experience is combined and local knowledge and expertise is used to provide the support needed.” This partnership between ERM & EMC is an opportunity. Carlos Pereyra, ERMs Latin America & Caribbean CEO, President and CEO of ERM Guyana, Inc, stated, ERM & EMC had been partners for many decades and now we want to continue that success for our clients as well as the local economies.
The citizens group questioned ExxonMobils selection of ERM to manage all of its Environmental Impact Assessments.
EAB and the EPA were also informed in their letters that ERM had admitted in an apology letter published in Kaieteur News on November 28, 20,21 to placing Nokta’s name on the Yellowtail EIA cover without his knowledge or consent.
How does EPA evaluate the credibility of ERMs given this serious breach in professional ethics and public trust? further questions from the citizens.
ERM issued an apology to Nokta earlier this month through his attorney, stating that ERM did no engage with Mr Nokta nor EMC in the conduct of the EIA. ERM does not have any current relationship with Mr Nokta and EMC to support any EIA regarding the Yellowtail Development Project.
It added that ERM regretted that Mr Nokta’s electronic signature was accidentally included on the cover of an EIA non technical summary for the Yellowtail Development Project. This version was posted on EPAs website. ERM extends an unequivocal apology to Mr Nokta regarding this error and the ensuing commentary.