The Government of Belize’s new draft proposal allowing companies to conduct offshore exploration for oil and gas near the Great Blue Hole has attracted criticism from various environmental groups.
The Great Blue Hole is a large submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize.
Under the latest proposal, companies can undertake offshore drilling in 99% of the country’s territorial waters.
The groups opposed the new proposal, saying that they will cause danger to the world’s second largest coral reef, and fragile reef ecosystems will be disturbed due to the exploratory oil wells.
Environmentalists said even a minor oil spill can impact the environment.
The 124m Great Blue Hole was named a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) world heritage site in 1996.
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In 2013, the judge of the Belize Supreme Court banned all licences and contracts that were related to offshore drilling in Belizean waters over safety and environmental concerns.
According to the judge, the government awarded offshore drilling contracts to companies which lacked adequate experience in the field of drilling and exploration.
This is expected to increase the risk of accident, the judge said.
Environmentalists are concerned about the adverse impact of offshore oil spills as tourism accounts for half of the country’s economy.
The Great Blue Hole, which was formed during several episodes of quaternary glaciation is a part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.
Image: The Great Blue Hole near Belize City, Belize. Photo: courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)