Sunday, November 17, 2002

The Express today runs a report by Mark Meredith on Talisman Energy, the Canadian oil & gas company seeking permission to conduct seismic studies in the Nariva Swamp. After the EMA turned down the request, Talisman filed an appeal with the new Environmental Commission, which will hear the petition tomorrow.

Just to get this clear: the Nariva Swamp is a protected reserve on Trinidad's east coast, listed under the Ramsar Convention as a "wetland of international importance", home to highly-endangered West Indian Manatees, & the focus of efforts to return Blue & Yellow Macaws to the wild. Seismic investigation is widely used by petrochemical companies to determine whether the geology of a particular area suggests significant oil or gas deposits. It involves drilling holes down into the bedrock, planting explosives, detonating these, & collecting & interpreting the resulting seismic data.

This can't have been a difficult decision for the EMA to make, & I assume the Environmental Commission will agree that blowing up chunks of one of Trinidad's most ecologically sensitive natural areas is a bad idea; still, I'm taken aback by Talisman's sheer bloody-minded nerve in making this request, & curious to know how the Manning government feels about the issue.

But sheer bloody-minded nerve is something Talisman seems to have no shortage of. Meredith's report centres on the company's recent operations in Sudan — for four years Talisman owned a 25% stake in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Comapny, accused by many international human rights & religious groups of funding the Sudanese government's catastrophic civil war (involving child soldiers, enslavement, famine, the bombing of hospitals etc.). Talisman sold this stake in late October, after widespread protests, at least one lawsuit, threatened sanctions — but also, probably most importantly, because a small but noisy group of its own shareholders were getting increasingly restless about what they thought was the company's complicity in a huge ongoing crime against the people of Sudan, putting pressure on Talisman's share price.

(See these December 1999 & March 2002 stories in Canadian Business Magazine for more background details.)

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