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Offshore Oil drilling, Belize


Since 2010, the government of Belize is granting oil concessions without carrying out any consultation with local communities. An example is the Sarstoon-Temash National Park case, which is affecting Mayan and Garifuna communities.

Also in 2010, the government decided to allow offshore oil drilling without consulting local fishermen nor the tourism sector (which are the two economic activities that will possibly be most affected by oil extraction).

In 2011, Oceana, an environmental advocacy group dedicated to the protection of the sea around the world, collected 20,000 signatures (5% of the Belizean population) to trigger a national referendum that would allow the public to vote on whether or not to allow offshore oil drilling.

According to OCEANA, even in the exploration phase, any accident that might occur could negatively impact the fishing and the tourism industry, which are the main economic activities of Belize. Exploratory drilling can introduce mud into ecosystems, while seismic testing can disrupt dolphin communication and foraging via sonar. The same year, the Belizean Government disqualified Oceana´s initiative by invalidating over 8,000 signatures, thereby stopping the possibility of a official referendum. In response to that, Oceana, the Belize Coalition to Save Our National Heritage and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action organized a unofficial “People’s Referendum” on the 29th of February 2012, in which 90% of the Belizeans voted against offshore exploration and drilling. This was also the first time in the history of Belize that a popular consultation took place on this issue. After knowing the results of the consultation, organizations called for a complete moratorium on any offshore oil exploration in Belizean territorial waters.

In 2013, Belize’s Supreme Court declared offshore drilling contracts issued by the Government of Belize in 2004 and 2007 invalid, because no Environmental Impact Assessment had been carried out. In 2015, the government of Belize reconsidered initiating offshore drilling. Concessions to be granted will include areas such as the Great Blue Hole, which is part of the Belizean Barrier Reef Reserve System that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. According to Oceana, possible new regulations – the government issued a new draft for petroleum exploration - would allow oil and gas exploration in 99% of Belize’s territorial waters. However, so far no exploration concession have been issued.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Offshore Oil drilling, Belize
State or province:70 kilometres off the coast of Belize
(municipality or city/town)Blue Hole
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Crude oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Offshore Drilling Concessions in Belice. No more details were fund.

Project area:unknown
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationUnknown
Affected Population:50,000
Start of the conflict:2011
Company names or state enterprises:Prince Petroleum from United Kingdom - owner
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE), Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology and Public Utilities (MESTPU), Belize National Energy (BNE), Supreme Court, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:OCEANA, The Belize Coalition to Save Our National Heritage, Liberty and Action, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA),

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Mayan and Garifuna communities
translation missing: en.m.mobilizing_groups.fisher_people
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Referendum other local consultations
Arguments for the rights of mother nature

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Noise pollution
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Oil spills
Other Environmental impactsPotential: exploratory drilling can introduce mud into ecosystems, while seismic testing can disrupt dolphin communication and foraging via sonar
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:To continue with the fishing industry and the tourism industry.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:In 2012 a Popular Referendum in Belice said No to the offshore oil drilling. As well, in 2013 the Supreme Court of Belize ruled that all offshore oil contracts issued are null and void. And there is a moratoria for the offshore drilling.

Sources and Materials

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Over 29,000 vote in Oceana’s Referendum

Offshore drilling moratorium remains, but for how long?


Petroleum Department’s proposed policy on offshore oil weak on data, details, potential damage

Results Of the People's Referendum Show Belizeans Are Against Offshore Drilling

"People's Referendum" A Success

Belize Supreme Court: Belize Gov Offshore Oil Contracts Null And Void

Belize Drops Proposal for Offshore Oil Drilling on World’s Second Largest Barrier Reef

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Belize: Between Oil and Tourism

Voice of the People (Oil Exploration in Belize Referendum)

Oceana-Belize says continue discussion on offshore oil exploration


Other documents


Oil and Water don´t Mix Referendum´s day

The Blue Hole

Referendum results

Meta information

Contributor:Grettel Navas, Fundación Neotrópica
Last update28/07/2015





Oil and Water don´t Mix

Referendum´s day

The Blue Hole


Referendum results