Monday, November 18, 2002

Damien responds, this time in his blog, to my argument that seismic exploration in the Nariva Swamp will in fact do considerable ecological damage.

"Let me say that the evidence Nick provides at best weakly supports his case against seismic surveying. Firstly, he talks about the effect of seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This testing took place in 1984–85, with the 'heavy, monster trucks' that he writes about. What he fails to realise is that companies, even oil companies, do not operate in a vacuum. Does he not think that the technology to test would have improved in the past 17 years, not least due to pressue from environmentalists?"

What Damien fails to realise is that one of those technological developments he's referring to is the emergence of 3-D as opposed to 2-D seismic surveying; 2-D is what was carried out in the ANWR 15 years ago; 3-D, the method currently being used here in T&T & elsewhere, is even more invasive (as the diagram at the top of the Fish & Wildlife Service webpage clearly indicates), since it requires a much tighter "grid", i.e. those big trucks (& they'll have to be big to navigate the marshy landscape of Nariva) will be churning up even more surface area than they would using the older technology. But don't take my word for it, listen to the US Bureau of Land Management:

"A 1998 Environmental Impact Statement from the Bureau of Land Management states: 'because 3-D seismic involves more tight turns by heavy equipment than does 2-D, the potential for vegetation damage is greater.'"

Yes, as Damien points out, the Alberta Centre for Boreal Studies does suggest a number of "best practices" to reduce the environmental impact of seismic exploration, but none of these are standard in the industry, all involve higher cost, & frankly I don't believe (& I'm sure Damien doesn't either) that Talisman will go to any great lengths to minimise damage to Nariva, once granted permission to proceed. The corporation that took advantage of bleeding, starving, war-torn Sudan is not going to worry very much about some mangroves or some manatees.

The odd thing is, Damien's picking away at my argument, yet he admits he agrees with me:

"I am not saying that the swamp should be exploited — personally, I would rather it not be.... [Nicholas's] position, though, sounds like exploitation should not even be contenanced — that the idea of doing so should not be entertained. This sounds less than reasoned argument than the faith of anti-development — certain areas are no-go, and that any proposal to do so is either too ludicrous or too blasphemous to be considered."

Well, that last bit there is rubbish, frankly! Pure speculative invention on Damien's part. Here's the point he's missing: the "development" of the Nariva Swamp has already been "countenanced", & the decision the T&T government made was that the swamp should be protected as far as possible in its natural state. For the very good reasons which I've outlined in previous posts, it was decided that of all the uses Nariva could be put to, a wildlife reserve was the best one — a reasoned decision, as opposed to what Damien calls "the faith of anti-development".

It's rather a stretch to take what I've written on this subject the last couple of days as evidence of such a "faith". If I were opposed to the exploitation & development of T&T's natural resources I'd be picketing bpTT headquarters round the Savannah or something like that. Instead I'm reasonably arguing that a sensitive natural area of the country, generally agreed to be worth protecting, should not be exposed to the depradations of a greedy, ruthless foreign corporation. In the give-&-take of economic development we've sensibly decided to trade large areas of our natural landscape in south Trinidad for the oil & gas beneath the surface, & the benefits of exploiting these; it's precisely because of this that it's worth declaring some of our most ecologically valuable territory off-limits: to remind us of the true terms of the exchange.

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