A proposal to lift the offshore drilling ban in Belize has been made by the Ministry of Energy, causing outrage among environmental activists and some of the nation’s residents.
The proposal, if passed into law, would allow offshore drilling off almost all of Belize’s coast, including near the Great Blue Hole, a 124-meter sinkhole that is one of the world’s top diving destinations and a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The offshore drilling ban in Belize was instituted in 2013 by the Supreme Court.
“They’ve declared open-season on almost 99% of Belize’s marine area,” Janelle Chanona, vice president for the environmental activist group Oceana Belize, told the Associated Press by phone from Belize’s capital, Belmopan. “That includes seven World Heritage sites, that includes marine protected areas,” she continued. “It is unacceptable.”
Oceana Belize was actively involved in lobbying for the 2013 ban. A referendum conducted by the group in 2012 found that 95% of 30,000 respondents (almost 10% of Belize’s population) wanted the ban. “The general consensus we’re getting from Belizeans is… ‘Didn’t we already decide not to do this? Why is this still an issue?’” Chanona told ThinkProgress.
Opposition against lifting the ban isn’t only coming from environmentalists. The tourism industry, which makes up 20% to 25% of Belize’s GDP, also has reason for concern. Eco-tourism is a big draw in Belize, with an estimated 321,220 overnight visitors in 2014. The fishing industry could also be affected by offshore drilling. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that about 15,000 people, or 5% of Belize’s population, relies on fishing for their source of income.
The Environmental Defense Fund’s director for Belize operations, Lawrence Epstein, told the Associated Press, “By any measure, both the exploration and any sort of accident that might happen could damage the fishing industry as well as the tourism industry.”
The government is expected to complete its regulatory proposal for offshore drilling and present it to the cabinet by the end of 2015.