Oil exploration in Belize

In 2005 Belize also became an oil producing nation and Belize Natural Energy Ltd (a US company) was formed to exploit it. Despite the fact that it has no refining capacity and therefore has to continue importing all its oil requirements, for a small country like Belize the chance to provide all its own energy from sources within the country is obviously enticing; and as usual the websites of the oil companies involved all display their commitment to environmental responsibility. There is no difficulty, however, in finding Belizeans who oppose oil drilling and who believe that their country can still provide all its energy requirements from within its borders without oil. APAMO (Association of Protected Areas Management Organisations), for instance, is an umbrella group of NGOs involved in managing Belizean protected areas and has called for a total ban on offshore oil exploration after a map showing oil concession areas was leaked to the press. SATIIM (Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management) also expressed their concern to the government about oil development and are calling for a referendum on the issue.

Belize acts to end offshore oil exploration

Good news from Belize

By Martin Mowforth

In January this year [2018] the government of Belize voted to end all oil exploration in its waters. The policy is intended to protect the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site, the world’s second largest coral reef after the Australian Barrier Reef. The reef is home to many endangered marine species such as hawksbill turtles, rays, various species of sharks and manatees.

It is rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media, but the ban is in part due to extensive lobbying by environmental groups in Belize since as early as 2006. Significant amongst these groups has been the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage. But the decision has also been widely welcomed by international organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Oil drilling puts at risk not just the marine biodiversity that is dependent on the reef, but also the country’s lucrative tourism industry which employs directly at least 25 per cent of the economically active population and indirectly and occasionally many more. Especially significant within the tourism industry is the dive sector which is dependent on the state of the reef. Belizean waters include three of the Caribbean’s four atolls: Lighthouse Reef; Glover’s Reef and the Turneffe Islands. Reef related tourism, fishing and other activities are estimated to have significant economic impact on a half of the country’s population.

By contrast with Belize’s decision, also in January this year Donald Trump opened up nearly all US waters to oil drilling in a move cheered by the oil industry. The decision affects many areas previously protected on environmental and conservation grounds. Clearly his memory covers only a short time span which can be no great surprise – Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico appears to have been forgotten already.

On the other hand, Belize’s decision lights the way for developing nations to take control of their own resources and to make decisions for the benefit of their own peoples and environments. Candy Gónzalez (of the Coalition and also of the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, BELPO), however, points out that, despite the headlines, “it is a moratorium, not a ban.” She adds that “that is one of the problems with it” and that it is “Not what we wanted, but it is something.”


  • Greg Beach (8th January 2018) ‘Belize votes to indefinitely end all oil exploration in its waters’,
  • Graeme Green (13th January) ‘Belize bans oil activity to protect its barrier reef’, The Guardian.
  • Adele Ramos (5th December 2015) ‘Belize beats UNESCO deadline to ban offshore exploration’,
  • Akshat Rathi (8th January 2018) ‘As Trump opens more waters for oil exploration, the tiny nation of Belize shows a better way’,
  • Candy Gónzalez (6th February 2018) Personal communication.

Offshore oil operations in Belize?

Martin Mowforth

December 2022

Oceana is an international organisation founded in 2001. It is the largest international advocacy organisation focussed solely on ocean conservation. It campaigns against offshore oil operations, plastics pollution of the oceans, and the use of gillnets and bottom trawling by the fishing industry.

The organisation has an office in Belize and in 2015 it was instrumental in persuading the government of Belize to provide protections for its barrier reef and World Heritage Sites from oil exploration. This was reaffirmed in 2017 when the government passed the Petroleum Operations (Offshore Zone Moratorium) Bill, placing an indefinite moratorium on offshore oil in the country’s marine territory. The Bill is often referred to as a Blue Bond Agreement.

The moratorium is still valid but can be reversed at any time as the language used in the Bill does not explicitly rule out oil exploration. In November [2022] Oceana called a press conference to alert the country to the wish of Prime Minister John Briceño to allow seismic testing which is generally seen as the first step in the process towards offshore oil exploration.

At the press conference, Janelle Chanona, Vice President of Oceana Belize, explained that in a meeting two months earlier Briceño had stated that he wished to proceed with seismic testing. Despite the global praise that Belize had gained for its signing up to the Blue Bond Agreement and its fight against climate change, Chanona pointed out the hypocrisy of now wanting to approve seismic testing.

“We can’t fight climate change and then turn around in the other breath and say but we want to contribute to it by engaging in offshore oil development,” said Chanona. Because of the alarm created by this current governmental position Oceana announced at its press conference that it was launching a petition in order to trigger a referendum on the issue. A petition of ten per cent of the population is required to trigger a referendum in Belize.

The government responded to the Oceana press conference with a statement that included the following: “the government of Belize hereby clarifies that it has not entered into any agreements for seismic studies nor for oil exploration in offshore areas.” In early December Prime Minister Briceño wrote to Oceana Belize reiterating the government’s position and support for the prohibition of offshore oil operations. He also declared the Oceana inspired referendum to be unnecessary and requested that the organisation re-engage with the government to tackle the “many marine conservation challenges that require collaborative action now.”

Oil exploration in Nicaragua

US company to dig exploratory oil well off Caribbean Coast

The US oil company Noble Energy, which was granted a concession in 2009, will begin drilling its first deep water exploratory well in the Caribbean coastal waters of Nicaragua in August. The 3,000 meter well should be completed by the end of the year. Minister of Energy and Mines Emilio Rappaccioli, stated that the Nicaraguan government has confidence that the company, which expects to invest US$300 million in exploration in Nicaraguan waters, will have success. Under Nicaraguan law, the company will pay Nicaragua 15% of the gross production and a 3% tax to near-by municipalities for social projects. If the company finds sufficient oil or natural gas to be commercially viable, it will pay a 30% tax. Rappaccioli said that, if the existence of oil is confirmed, it is estimated that over 25 years the company could produce 500 million barrels for which it would pay the government US$17.5 billion. (Radio La Primerisima, June 25)

Taken from Nicaragua News, 2.7.13

Welcome to ADELA

The GROUP ADELA was born when people and organizations from diverse sectors of Limon became aware of the effects of the seismic reflection explorations performed by an oil company in November of 1999. ADELA has concerned itself with informing and educating the Caribbean community and the political sector about the risks that the petroleum activity carries with it for the Caribbean and Costa Rica, and in defending our model of sustainable development with the participation of the residents in the formulation of better energy practices and polícies . Currently it is promoting a pilot project of fuel based on biomass in the district of Talamanca and exercises its influence so that the country will formulate an energy policy based on reducing the consumption and making use of alternative technologies based on renewable sources.

ADELA is currently working on the planning and development of a pilot project of alternative energy based on biomass, in conjunction with a local organization and the Municipality. It seeks to utilize the agricultural waste products of bananas and plantains as raw material to produce biofuel.

1. A decision handed down by the of the Supreme Court held that the extrajudicial arbitration could not proceed as the Arbitration Board of the Center for Conciliation and Arbitration of the Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce “lacks jurisdiction to rule on any controversy arising between the parties as the matter is pending before the courts”, according to Vote No. 000744-C-06, of October 5, 2006.

2. The oil company Harken Costa Rica Holdings is demanding $13 million from Costa Rica in damages for the suspension of their contract to develop oil and gas along the Caribbean coast. They also seek to reactivate the contract in orderto resume activities in the Caribbean province of Limon. The company has filed claims for indemnization in an arbitration requested before the Chamber of Commerce and before the courts.

3. The oil company HARKEN CR in 2005 filed a judicial claim before the Administrative law Court in San José to vacate the resolution by MINAE to terminate the contract signed between the country of Costa Rica and Harken Costa Rica Holdings LLC. HARKEN insists on reactivating the same contract and collecting multi-million dollar damages from the country.

Members of the group ADELA are collaborating in the legal process with the legal assistance of Justice for Nature to support the Attorney General in defending our interests.

4. Harken is formally challenging before the Court the right to participation of local civil society in the process. In August 2006, the lower Court rejected Harken’s position and upheld the community participation in the lawsuit, affirming the right that these sectors have to be a part of legal processes that could affect their environment and their way of life. However, the company has appealed this procedural holding to a hirer court in order to exclude from the case all the community members and environmental organizations of ADELA that in the past have successfully opposed the oil concessions in the South Caribbean. They argue that the lawsuit concerns a subjectmatter which is solely technical in nature without any environmental consequences.

5. In the elections for Mayor of the Municipality of Talamanca, ADELA has brought the issue to the debates. We have been pressing for a continued Moratorium on Oil and on Dec. 3rd the winning candidate, Rugeli Morales declared his active support for ADELA and clearly denounced any petroleum or mining explorations in the Caribbean.

6. In Central America, indigenous communities in Belize have also won the right to demand an Environmental Impact Study from their government in their struggle to save their lands from US companies that are attempting to exploit petroleum within protected areas. Members of ADELA visited the ngo SATIIM in southern Belize to share experiences. For more information visit: www.globalresponse.org/ | http://www.satiim.org.bz/

7. Acción de Lucha Antipetrolera (ADELA) is once again seeking funds to cover the costs of this new phase of the campaign in Costa Rica, especially for the legal defense of our judicial collaboration. You can make donations to our account at the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica:

“Asoc. Justicia para la Naturaleza”
# 605479-5
Sucursal – SAN JOSE

MORE INFORMATION adela@grupoadela.org