Exxon’s oil drilling gamble off Guyana coast ‘poses major environmental risk.’

Experts warn of potential for disaster as Exxon pursues 9bn barrels in sensitive marine ecosystem.
Photograph: Christopher Gregory/The Guardian

Antonia Juhasz, Bertha Fellow, for Floodlight.

Tue 17 Aug 2021 06.15 EDT

ExxonMobil’s huge new Guyana project faces charges of a disregard for safety from experts who claim the company has failed to adequately prepare for possible disaster, the Guardian and Floodlight have found.

Exxon has been extracting oil from Liza 1, an ultra-deepwater drilling operation, since 2019 – part of an expansive project spanning more than 6m acres off the coast of Guyana that includes 17 additional prospects in the exploration and preparatory phases.

By 2025, the company expects to produce 800,000 barrels of oil a day, surpassing estimates for its entire oil and natural gas production in the south-western US Permian basin by 100,000 barrels that year. Guyana would then represent Exxon’s largest single source of fossil fuel production anywhere in the world.

But experts claim that Exxon in Guyana appears to be taking advantage of an unprepared government in one of the lowest-income nations in South America, allowing the company to skirt necessary oversight. Worse, they also believe the company’s safety plans are inadequate and dangerous.

A top engineer who studies oil industry disasters, as well as a former government regulator, have leveled criticisms at Exxon. They say workers’ lives, public health and Guyana’s oceans and fisheries – which locals rely on heavily– are all at stake.

Christopher Gregory/The Guardian

“Exxon is only going to be here for 20 to 25 years,” said Vincent Adams, Guyana’s former environment chief. “When they make all their billions, and they’re ready to pack up and they’re gone, we’ve got to deal with the mess.”

Environmental campaigners and activist shareholders suggest Exxon also cannot reconcile the project with its public commitments to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

Exxon claims its climate goals are “some of the most aggressive” in the industry, but its operations in Guyana will send more than 2bn metric tons of climate-destroying CO2 into the atmosphere.

Exxon contends that the company complies with all applicable laws in Guyana and adhered to a rigorous process to obtain environment authorization for its projects there. “Our work and the support of the government of Guyana are the basis of a long-term mutually-beneficial relationship that has already created significant value for the people of Guyana,” Exxon said in a written statement in response to questions from the Guardian.