Monday, July 22, 2024

Oceana delivers petitions to Governor General office to initiate referendum against offshore oil exploration

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On Thursday, June 22nd, Oceana Belize visited the office of the Governor General Her Excellency Dame Froyla Tzalam, to deliver signed petitions from registered Belizean voters to trigger a referendum on offshore oil drilling in Belize waters. Oceana said the number of petitions delivered exceeds the legally required 10% of the electorate. The non-profit organization believes that Belizeans should be consulted and decide if the current offshore oil and natural gas moratorium passed as law in December 2017 should ever be lifted.
The petition campaign started in November 2022 after Oceana Belize reported that under the People’s United Party, the current government was considering seismic testing for oil in Belizean waters. The government quickly denied this, saying there are no intentions for such studies in the country. The petition to collect signatures, however, continued and saw the participation of more than 22,000 Belizeans. Oceana said the information collected from those participating was vetted and verified. Oceana’s Vice President Janell Chanona spoke on the significance of this petition. “This signature drive reminds, respects, and resoundingly reiterates that Belizeans want to be heard on this national issue. Today is all about the sensational resiliency of Belizeans to love and protect livelihoods, identity, and food security from an inherently dirty and dangerous industry,” said Chanona. “An official vote will finally ensure that if any future administration wants to lift the moratorium, the administration would be guided by the Belizean electorate and made collectively, transparently, and after well-informed deliberation,” Chanona added that everyone has the responsibility to ensure that generations of Belizeans will always be able to enjoy the beauty and bounty of the country’s Caribbean waters.
In the event of a referendum, the question Belizeans will be asked for approval or disapproval is: ‘Do you support a legislative ban by way of an amendment to the Belize Constitution, Chapter 4 of the Laws of Belize, which will prohibit offshore petroleum and natural gas exploration (including but not limited to seismic testing, seismic surveys, multibeam surveys), development, drilling, extraction, production, storage, and disposal within the internal waters, territorial sea, and the exclusive economic zone of Belize (‘petroleum operations’), unless a referendum is held in accordance with the Referendum Act, Chapter 10 of the Laws of Belize, which approves such petroleum operations?’
The non-profit organization said it would continue to stand alongside Belizeans, including organizational allies, patriotic supporters, and dedicated wavemakers, to advocate for the protection of Belize’s invaluable marine resources. These efforts to raise awareness for protecting Belize’s marine ecosystems have been ongoing since 2009.
In February 2012, a referendum dubbed ‘The People’s Referendum’ was held against offshore oil exploration in the country. The movement was organized by the Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage and Oceana Belize. The result was overwhelming, with more than 95% of the voters registering their disapproval of offshore oil exploration in Belize.
Although oil exploration is illegal in the country, and a moratorium passed into law in 2017 under the government of the United Democratic Party, an official national referendum on the matter is yet to take place. Oceana commended all those Belizeans who participated in the signature drive and continues to encourage stakeholders and environmentalists to remain on guard regarding this issue of national interest.

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