25 min read

Subscriber Early Release S8 Ep3 | Unlimited Liability

Subscriber Early Release S8 Ep3 | Unlimited Liability

One person in Guyana knows both the inner workings of oil companies and the intricacies of Guyanese environmental law better than most. Melinda Janki grew up in Guyana, but went to school at Oxford and then worked as in-house counsel for oil giant BP before returning home. Decades ago she started to help strengthen the country’s environmental laws. In 2020 she started filing suits against the government to block offshore drilling. Her latest suit alleges that the government of Guyana has not required  large enough of an insurance policy to cover the level of damage an offshore catastrophe could cause.

Damages S3 E3 V31


NatGeo Deepwater Horizon doc: [00:00:02] Just opened up my book. I started reading the first sentence of a paragraph when I heard what sounded like a freight train coming through my bedroom. I jumped out of the bed and then there was a thumping sound that consecutively got much faster. And with each though, I felt the rig actually shake. And there was an initial boom. The lights went out and there was a huge explosion. [00:00:36][33.7]

Amy Westervelt: [00:00:40] This is a clip from National Geographic's documentary about the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There are dozens of documentaries like this about the disaster and even a feature film starring Mark Wahlberg. [00:00:53][13.1]

Deepwater film archival: [00:00:56] Now, that is a genuine dinosaur, too. She's going to live. Al Goodman, like, are you serious? [00:01:05][9.1]

Amy Westervelt: [00:01:06] They all say the same thing. [00:01:07][1.4]

NatGeo Deepwater Horizon doc: [00:01:08] The destruction of the Deepwater Horizon had been building for weeks in a series of mishaps. They pledged repeatedly to run a safer operation. Yet they continued to cut costs. The tension in every drilling operation is between doing things safely and doing them fast. [00:01:23][15.1]

Amy Westervelt: [00:01:24] You'd hope that the whole industry, all of the oil companies would have learned from these mistakes. But now a lot of experts think Guyana is following in some of the exact same footsteps. [00:01:37][12.1]

Carroll Muffet, CIEL: [00:01:38] They are facing the long term risks of a blowout or a catastrophic spill. [00:01:42][3.7]

Tom Sanzillo: [00:01:43] Now it's clear that they are running the operations at greater capacity levels than was designed. [00:01:50][7.1]

Antonia Juhasz: [00:01:51] A lot of the right words that Exxon had written down, but just no depth to it, no details on the security provisions that needed to be in place to prevent a disaster. [00:02:05][14.7]

Amy Westervelt: [00:02:09] One reason this is all so incredibly disturbing is that the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 was one of the most catastrophic oil spills in history. And yet it happened under BP, one of the world's largest oil companies, in the Gulf of Mexico, an area that's been producing oil for almost a century and has some of the world's best regulations and industry oversight. In other words, in the best case scenario, we had one of the worst spills in history. [00:02:39][30.4]

[00:02:42] There are two things that make deepwater offshore drilling projects especially risky. The first is that when you're drilling in more than 5000 feet of water, there's about an elephant's worth of pressure bearing down on every square inch of your equipment. So the chances of a screw loosening or heart breaking are really high. The second is that almost every time you drill for oil, you get gas as well. The two tend to hang out together and that gas needs to be managed because if it comes rushing to the surface and finds a spark, of which there are many on an oil rig, things can go boom. That's a big part of what happened with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. And it turns out there are a lot of similarities between what happened in the Gulf then and what's happening in Guyana now. In both cases, oil companies decided to continue production despite known issues with equipment. In Guyana, Exxon had a problem early. The first production rig's gas compressor was faulty. That's part of the reason that instead of re injecting the gas underground as they had planned, they started burning it off or flaring it. They sent it off to be fixed, but it didn't work. So they set it off again and again, it didn't work. So they redesigned. And Exxon says that its redesigned gas compressor was fully functional as of the end of 2022 and that it is taking safety and maintenance seriously in Guyana. But the company is also proudly talking about how they've managed to fast track everything in this project. Remember, they say their existing wells are producing above design capacity, meaning more than they're designed to produce. And unlike the Gulf region, Guyana is really new to the oil business. That includes regulating the industry, too. [00:04:40][118.1]

Antonia Juhasz: [00:04:41] The government has admitted that it doesn't have yet the full capacity to do deepwater regulation, and people who are former government officials who I interviewed were very clear that it lacks anything close to the regulatory capacity to oversee deepwater drilling. [00:04:59][18.0]

Amy Westervelt: [00:05:00] A high risk project with little oversight, fast tracking production. What can go wrong? The thing is, even though it seems like fast tracking oil production would bring the money in sooner, it actually kind of puts the whole endeavor at risk before it has a chance to make Guyana rich. The World Bank said this publicly in 2019. They gave the Guyanese government $20 million to create an agency that would regulate the oil and gas industry to try and prevent these kinds of really risky moves. But so far that hasn't happened. And S&P Global even said that Guyana is, quote, "only a corruption scandal or environmental accident away from total disaster on the oil front." So it's starting to seem more likely that Guyana will have a massive oil disaster than a massive payday. If a blowout were to happen on any of Guyana's offshore wells. The cost to its communities and industries would be astronomical. Remember when Exxon's president in Guyana, Alastair Rutledge, talked about how the oil companies had taken on all the risk? [00:06:15][74.3]

Alistair Routledge: [00:06:16] ExxonMobil has since take all of the risk upfront. So if we never made an economic development, we would swallow all of the costs that went into that investment. [00:06:28][11.8]

Amy Westervelt: [00:06:29] Well, now that risk has transferred entirely to Guyana. That is, unless one scrappy Guyanese lawyer gets her way in court. [00:06:38][9.1]

Melinda Janki: [00:06:39] The oil companies are the same the world over. They want to make money and that's all they are interested in. And you have to find some way to show them that actually they can't do it because there are rules or there are there is something else that will stop them. But the something else that would stop them is not morality. It's not the environment. It's not, oh, it's a bad deal for us. You should give us more. Oh, it's an abuse of the. Oh, it's an exploitative deal. The more abusive and exploitative the deal is, the more money they make. [00:07:10][30.6]

Amy Westervelt: [00:07:11] This is Melinda Janki, and she has another idea for that "something else." This is Light, Sweet Crude, and I'm Amy Westervelt. Stay with us. [00:07:24][13.4]

Melinda Janki: [00:07:57] That metallic sound is her tail banging on the metal tank. I just need to...I was in the middle of sending this... [00:08:07][9.6]

Amy Westervelt: [00:08:12] Melinda Janki works in a home office right next to the pen her rescue dogs stay in when strangers like me are visiting her. She lives in a bustling residential neighborhood full of family homes. It's easy to miss Janki's house because it's set back from the street, hidden by trees that are filled with birds. [00:08:31][18.8]

Melinda Janki: [00:08:32] Well, I think everyone should be able to wake up in the morning and there's just something very beautiful in front of them. Flowers and birds and the sound of the sound of the birds. Birdsong. [00:08:42][10.0]

Amy Westervelt: [00:08:44] Even in the middle of the flowers and the birds and the dogs, Janki is always working on a zillion things at once. [00:08:50][6.5]

Melinda Janki: [00:08:52] Well, here we are in my office, which is, as you can see, full of books, full of papers. This is really where I do most of my work. [00:09:07][15.4]

Amy Westervelt: [00:09:08] She was sitting at her desk under a life sized painting of a yellow jaguar, which seems very apt. Jackie is not a large woman and she doesn't speak loudly. But there's a quiet rage about her. [00:09:20][11.7]

Melinda Janki: [00:09:21] But it's not necessarily where I do my thinking. Because thinking and work are not always the same thing. [00:09:30][8.8]

Amy Westervelt: [00:09:30] Where do you do your thinking? [00:09:31][0.6]

Melinda Janki: [00:09:31] I do a lot of my thinking with my trees and my plants. I do a lot of my thinking with the stars at night. [00:09:40][9.0]

Amy Westervelt: [00:09:42] Nature is what has drawn Janki back to Guyana over and over again. She grew up in a neighborhood of Georgetown called Subryanville, near the ocean. [00:09:50][8.7]

Melinda Janki: [00:09:52] And so every night for the first few years of my life, I went to bed with the sound of the sea in my ears. And Subryanville was very quiet. We lived. Was with our neighbors, basically. So all the children were in all the houses all of the time. And I would say I was obviously brought up by my mother and father, but I was also brought up by all the other parents in the neighborhood. [00:10:21][29.1]

Amy Westervelt: [00:10:27] By the time Janki was 12, Guyana had descended into constant unrest. There were politically motivated killings, riots in the streets, the economy was unstable, and it seemed like an unsafe place to raise kids. So her parents made the tough decision to leave. They moved the family first to Zambia, then to Trinidad, and eventually Janki went to the UK to study law at Oxford University. Loads of Guyanese people leave the country to study in the US or the UK. Brain drain is something government officials are constantly trying to get on top of, and so many people mentioned it to us. In fact, only about 50% of Diana's people actually live in Guyana. And in the vast majority of cases, once people leave, they don't come back. After Janki finished at Oxford, she got hired at one of the top corporate law firms in London. It was about as far away as you could get from waking up to the birds and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean. After a few years, she was ready for something new. [00:11:34][67.6]

Melinda Janki: [00:11:35] And at the time it seemed like BP was a good place to go. [00:11:39][4.1]

Amy Westervelt: [00:11:44] Yes, BP. That BP, as in one of the largest oil companies in the world. The company that was overseeing the Deepwater Horizon drilling. Janki negotiated for them throughout Europe. [00:11:58][14.0]

Melinda Janki: [00:11:59] The work was very interesting. I had far more responsibility than I would have had if I'd stayed in the law firm. I met some very interesting people. And I traveled. And, you know, when you're young, the idea of seeing the world is very attractive. You want to go to other places, you want to meet other people, you want to experience other cultures. And you just you just want to learn. [00:12:22][23.7]

Amy Westervelt: [00:12:23] But at a certain point, she just couldn't do it anymore. [00:12:25][2.0]

Melinda Janki: [00:12:26] I was in a meeting and one of the people at the table turned to me and he said, Oh, this is such sexy work. And I thought to myself, You know, this is really time to leave. [00:12:41][15.4]

Amy Westervelt: [00:12:43] It wasn't so much the work she was tired of as the context. She missed being surrounded by nature. She was also getting pretty tired of having to prove to white Europeans that she, a brown woman from the Global South, knew what she was talking about. She had a standing offer to work as a partner in a prestigious corporate firm in Guyana. So she went for it. She'd be doing roughly the same sort of commercial work that she'd been doing. But in a place she loved and on her own terms. [00:13:14][30.9]

Melinda Janki: [00:13:16] You know, sometimes when I look out of the window, there's a hummingbird there, and that's very beautiful. And I don't want to wake up to an alarm clock. And I have not woken up to an alarm clock for decades. [00:13:24][8.4]

Amy Westervelt: [00:13:26] It was during these years that these two very different parts of Janki's life--Her childhood in Guyana, growing up, surrounded by and loving nature, and her career in London negotiating for BP--came together into a whole new chapter. [00:13:40][14.1]

Melinda Janki: [00:13:41] Well, I think when you grew up with nature, then you have a relationship with the world around you. And then if you're a lawyer, you sort of at some point, I suppose, the two connect. And I wanted to protect Guyana's environment. I wanted to protect the nature that I grew up with and that I think everybody should have a chance to grow up with. [00:14:08][27.2]

Amy Westervelt: [00:14:09] And because Guyana is quite a small country with just under 800,000 residents, she was able to get involved in protecting its environment in a very real way. [00:14:19][10.0]

Melinda Janki: [00:14:21] There was a meeting at the Pegasus Hotel. I wanted to go, but I had no way to go to the meeting because I was just this completely unimportant individual. [00:14:33][11.7]

Amy Westervelt: [00:14:34] The meeting was focused on environmental regulation, and it was by invitation only. Janki was able to score an invite through a friend. [00:14:41][7.4]

Melinda Janki: [00:14:42] So I went and it was interminably boring. But in the break, I was able to talk to one of the government officials and say to him that I had looked at their draft environmental act and I thought that it was inadequate. [00:14:57][14.9]

Amy Westervelt: [00:14:59] This is the sort of thing that makes people either love or hate Melinda Janki. She says exactly what she thinks in every situation, but especially when she cares deeply about something. This time she was talking about the need to build in real safeguards for Guyana's valuable ecosystems. The country has been through phase after phase of what economists call the resource curse. It happens when a less developed country puts all of its focus on the economic benefit attached to selling a particular resource like gold or diamonds or oil. But instead of untold riches, what those countries generally get is an unstable economy that lives or dies by the price of whatever commodity they're now dependent on selling. Janki figured if the government was going to go to the trouble of writing a new Environmental Protection Act, it should have some teeth. And so at the Pegasus Hotel in the mid-nineties, she said just that to a government official. And it actually paid off. [00:16:02][62.9]

Melinda Janki: [00:16:03] He didn't brush me off. He said, Oh, well, send me something about it. So I wrote a paper explaining why I thought this act was inadequate. The next thing I knew was they asked me if I'd like to actually work on this as a consultant. And so I said yes, and I was hired. [00:16:22][19.3]

Amy Westervelt: [00:16:25] Janki's input transformed the proposed regulation from one that sounded okay on paper, but really didn't do much to one of the most rigorous pieces of environmental legislation, not just in the region but in the world. Companies that wanted to tap Guyana's resources would have to undertake serious environmental and climate impact assessments. And this was about three years or so before the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, which means climate impact assessments were not a thing that a lot of countries were really doing at the time. Janki also wrote in Requirements for comprehensive environmental management. She introduced the idea of natural capital and the need to protect it. Natural capital is the monetary value of all the things that a healthy ecosystem does for us, like keeping our air and drinking water clean or storing carbon to curb climate change. Jackie insisted that the government protect that value. It's an incredibly progressive piece of environmental regulation, even by today's standards. Never mind back in the mid-nineties that work also earned Janki a lot of credibility in the realm of environmental law. So much so that when the government was drafting a new constitution a few years later, Janki had the ear of some pretty important people and was able to add in some very valuable protections. [00:17:53][87.7]

Melinda Janki: [00:17:54] I decided that I would write something and send it to them as a sort of background paper that would add to the discussion. So I looked at constitutions around the world that at that time had the right to health, the environment. And then I put forward the arguments for having it in the Constitution. [00:18:16][21.9]

Amy Westervelt: [00:18:18] Today, Article 149 of Guyana's Constitution grants every citizen, quote, the right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her health or well-being. It also requires the state to protect the environment for the benefit of present and future generations. You may remember, we did a whole season of Damages on Rights of Nature. It's a legal concept that gives constitutional rights to ecosystems, which then also gives rights to communities around those ecosystems to be able to legally protect them, whether they're forests or watersheds or lakes. What Guyana wrote into its constitution is the flip side of that coin. It grants humans the right to a healthy environment. So if a corporation or the government is doing something that infringes on that right, they can be sued for violating the Constitution. This constitutional amendment was written years before Exxon would strike oil off Guyana's coast. But like I mentioned before, the country had already been through several waves of extractive colonialism, and Jinky and many other Guyanese citizens were over it. [00:19:37][79.6]

Melinda Janki: [00:19:38] Guyana has had Bonanza after Bonanza, Gold, bauxite, diamonds, timber, you name it. For 55 years, the political parties have run this country into the ground. [00:19:50][12.1]

Amy Westervelt: [00:19:51] It's gold, bauxite, timber and diamonds had all been pillaged to make foreign companies money. Janki hopes that enshrining the right to a healthy environment in the country's constitution would give citizens some protection. Next time anyone wanted to plunder their resources. [00:20:08][16.7]

Melinda Janki: [00:20:10] Where again as gold reserves, where is the money from the gold? Where is the money from the bauxite? Where is the money from the diamonds? Where is the money from the sugar? Where is the money from the agriculture? Where is the money from the fishing, etc. The list is almost endless because we are so full of wealth. And yet the people in this country are poor. We have people sleeping on the streets and eating out of the bins. So there is no point in anybody saying oil is going to make Guyana rich. [00:20:39][29.4]

Amy Westervelt: [00:20:40] Usually when someone criticizes the government in Guyana, people accuse them of being against whatever political party is in power. Which also ties into longstanding racial divides. So it's worth noting that Jackie is an equal opportunity critic when it comes to Guyanese politicians. And she couldn't believe that despite all of her efforts and all of the careful language embedded into Guyanese law, both parties governments just didn't enforce any of it. [00:21:09][28.2]

Alistair Routledge: [00:21:10] We reached the huge milestone of of declaring 10 billion oil equivalent barrels offshore Guyana. [00:21:17][6.6]

Melinda Janki: [00:21:17] My heart just sank because I know oil is a disaster and it's the worst possible thing that could have happened to Guyana. And people just began to go crazy at the idea of all this oil wealth. And sure enough, the first thing that we saw was that they entered into a new agreement, which was secret. They wouldn't release it to people when they finally released it. It was atrocious. [00:21:51][33.5]

Amy Westervelt: [00:21:53] As we talked about last episode, the original contract between the Exxon and Guyana, it was signed in 1999. But at the time, Ghana's will was not that attractive because Exxon was still drilling in Venezuela, where it was much easier to access oil. Plus, the Guyanese government had granted Exxon extraordinarily long exploration permits, so the company was quite happy to just camp out on its offshore blocks in Guyana until it needed them. When Exxon did leave Venezuela, it returned to Guyana and after it found oil, lots of it, the company signed a new contract with the government. But no matter what the contract said, Exxon and its subsidiary Esso would still be required by law. The law Jinky helped to write to do a comprehensive environmental impact assessment, according to Jinky. That is not exactly what happened. [00:22:51][57.6]

Melinda Janki: [00:22:53] So, so started to do this environmental impact assessment. It was absolutely atrocious. [00:22:58][4.6]

Amy Westervelt: [00:23:00] For a start, Janki says environmental impact assessments are supposed to be conducted by an independent third party. But Exxon used a firm and has an ongoing contract with. [00:23:10][10.1]

Melinda Janki: [00:23:10] That rule was breached from day one. But people were so excited about this oil that no one was focusing on this. [00:23:17][6.2]

Amy Westervelt: [00:23:17] Second, Janki says each part of the offshore drilling project should have its own environmental impact assessment. But that didn't happen here. [00:23:25][8.0]

Melinda Janki: [00:23:26] You need an environmental impact assessment for each one of the eight production wells. Each of the six deepwater wells, each of the three gas wells, the sewage, the ballast, the produce water, the cooling water, the transportation of the oil and so on. Even the seismic studies should have an environmental impact assessment because of the impact on marine mammals. [00:23:49][22.5]

Amy Westervelt: [00:23:50] The one that Esso drafted for its first production site does consider the impact of a large scale spill. They calculated that if 20,000 barrels a day were spilled for 30 days, that, quote, little irreversible damage would be expected, although it could take a decade or more for all resources to fully recover. [00:24:10][19.9]

Melinda Janki: [00:24:12] So the total spill would be 600,000 barrels of oil. Well, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled 257,000 barrels of oil. So roughly half what we're talking about at the moment. That spill covered 11,000 square miles. It killed hundreds of thousands of birds and animals and unknown quantities of salmon and herring. And nearly 30 years later, the area has not recovered and probably never will. This environmental impact assessment is a totally inadequate assessment of the risk. [00:24:47][34.3]

Amy Westervelt: [00:24:48] And the straw that broke Melinda Jenkins back was when she noticed that Guyana's Environmental Protection Agency, their EPA, issued Esso's permit the same day it received their environmental impact assessment, an environmental management assessment. Those documents are each hundreds of pages long. [00:25:07][19.6]

Melinda Janki: [00:25:10] So it is a mystery as to when exactly the Environmental Protection Agency read these documents, if, in fact, they did read them. [00:25:20][9.9]

Amy Westervelt: [00:25:21] Janki started going to every government event or meeting she could about the oil project. [00:25:25][4.0]

Melinda Janki: [00:25:27] So at this event, the adviser to the president on oil was telling people that they didn't really know the oil industry and they had to trust the oil companies. [00:25:35][8.1]

Amy Westervelt: [00:25:37] Let that sink in for a second, knowing all we know about how oil companies conduct business. The government was opting to trust them in good faith, and Jake was not going to let that happen. [00:25:49][12.1]

Melinda Janki: [00:25:50] I was utterly outraged by that, particularly as it was coming from someone who was very close to the president. And I began talking to someone there and he said he would like to do a case, but nobody would do the case for him to challenge the oil. And I said, I'll do it. [00:26:10][20.0]

Amy Westervelt: [00:26:14] It was one of those spur of the moment decisions you make without really thinking it through. Janki had been out of the litigation game for years by this point, and she wasn't working with a firm anymore. But she wanted to take on the oil companies and she figured she'd be able to find another lawyer to join her. [00:26:30][16.1]

Melinda Janki: [00:26:31] I thought, I'll get someone else to help with this, but in fact, I couldn't get anybody to help with it. [00:26:38][7.0]

Amy Westervelt: [00:26:39] Many of the country's lawyers were already either working for Esso or for the government or for a supplier connected to the project. Again, Ghana is small. There are only so many lawyers and law clerks there. JQ is quickly finding that a whole lot of them just couldn't join her because of those conflicts of interest. And then there's the issue of folks just not wanting that smoke. By this point, it wasn't just Exxon pushing the oil project. The government was all for it, too. And there's a very real and relatively recent history in Guyana of the government suppressing opposition sometimes violently. That's a big part of why Jenkins family left Guyana when she was a kid. Now, she was asking someone to take on that risk for a case that only had a few thousand dollars worth of crowdfunding. That's right. To fund the case. They got donations from citizens and from some Guyanese people who were living outside of the country to get things going. She started by filing cases around the permits, arguing that the environmental impact assessments were faulty and that the Guyanese government had violated its own laws by issuing an extra long permit to Esso. She had an early win. [00:27:53][74.0]

Melinda Janki: [00:27:54] We cut Esso's permits down from over 23 years to five years. [00:27:57][3.7]

Amy Westervelt: [00:27:58] Janki felt like if the government would just use the laws that were already on the books, they could make this project too expensive to be worth Exxon's attention at all. Because remember, part of what's driving Exxon's increased presence in Guyana is the fact that it can move quickly and cheaply there. So if the government would just tell the oil companies to slow down, be careful, follow the rules, then the contract that's got so many people upset, the one we talked about last time that some are pushing to renegotiate, it would kind of be beside the point. [00:28:31][33.5]

Melinda Janki: [00:28:33] I think it's foolish and I think it's naive. Exxon and its partners are not going to come back to the table to renegotiate anything unless they get a better deal. [00:28:45][12.2]

Amy Westervelt: [00:28:47] She says those pushing for contract renegotiation should be cheering on these cases, too. [00:28:52][4.9]

Melinda Janki: [00:28:52] It's my feeling that if we actually properly enforce those laws, this operation would have to be shut down. And if that happens, then for the renegotiation people, at least then you could say if you were being commercially minded as opposed to naive, you can only restart if you give us a proper deal. [00:29:16][23.2]

Amy Westervelt: [00:29:16] Keep in mind that Janki has been inside the belly of the beast, so to speak. She has been the person on the other side of that conference table trying to get oil companies more money. So she has a better idea than most how to negotiate against them. And since she knows they won't come back to the table, her weapon of choice is lawsuits. Which is why in late 2022, she filed her sixth case, this time arguing that the government is not requiring a large enough insurance policy from Exxon because, you know, a spill would likely be much more catastrophic than what they're projecting. It's the first of Jenkins arguments that seems to have prompted a major marketing response from Exxon. Here is Exxon Guyana's president, Alister Routledge, in a promotional video about, of all things, insurance. See if you can spot some of the tactics we laid out last time. [00:30:14][57.5]

Alistair Routledge: [00:30:16] Recognizing the ongoing discussion and in many cases, misinformation around oil spill insurance. ExxonMobil. Guyana wishes to categorically state that it has insurance coverage that meets international industry standards for all its petroleum activities in Guyana. [00:30:31][15.2]

Amy Westervelt: [00:30:33] Everyone else is spreading misinformation and we've got it covered. But what Janki has focused on in her suit goes beyond the sort of insurance that Routledge is talking about. She's arguing for something called financial assurance, which is effectively an unlimited liability policy, meaning you break it, you fix it. There's no limit on the amount of money Exxon could have to spend to clean up a major disaster. But here's the thing. Guyanese law already requires financial assurance as part of Exxon's drilling permits. And still, Jenkins says, the government is just not enforcing its own laws, which is part of what makes Guyana such an appealing place to do business. For companies like Exxon, the government is providing little oversight of the project. We talked earlier about a faulty gas compressor on Exxon's first production rig. The company claims that today the compressor is fixed and everything is working as it should be. Jackie's point is the fact that it wasn't working for so long is exactly the kind of thing that makes the unlimited liability policy necessary. If the companies were continuing to pump oil with a piece of equipment they knew was faulty, she argues. How can Guyana trust that won't happen again or that it won't be catastrophic next time? Because remember. [00:31:59][85.7]

Melinda Janki: [00:32:00] Little things will What caused the BP Macondo well blowout? The BP Macondo well blowout happened in the Gulf of Mexico. The United States of America has more experience, more resources, more expertise, more technology, more boats, more everything than anybody. And that happened in just in the Gulf of Mexico. And yet. It was devastating. [00:32:24][24.4]

Amy Westervelt: [00:32:28] Guyana not only lacks a regulatory system for oil, it also does not have a bench of petroleum experts just hanging out in Georgetown waiting to jump into action if a blowout occurs or even just a large spill. And according to Exxon's own environmental impact assessments for some of its more recent production sites in some parts of the offshore project, if there were a spill, ocean currents could carry oil throughout the Caribbean, impacting up to 14 Caribbean islands. [00:32:59][30.4]

Melinda Janki: [00:33:00] This country knows nothing about oil and even less about oil danger and oil spills. The risk to Guyana is incredible, this oil production. This is a reckless gamble by the government of Guyana with the future of Guyana. It's a reckless gamble by the governments of Ghana for the entire Caribbean. The maps show that if there is a well blowout, that oil is going to end up in Caribbean countries. Caribbean sisters and brothers. [00:33:36][36.5]

Amy Westervelt: [00:33:41] Those countries depend largely on tourism and fishing for their economies too. Industries that could be wiped out for years if oil were to wash up onshore in a big way. Jackie says she remembers watching the people of Valdez, Alaska, fight for years to get Exxon to properly clean up that spill. And she doesn't think the Guyanese government should trust that they're going to get any better treatment, especially if Guyana finds itself on the hook for damages in other countries. Jackie argues that because the industry isn't properly regulated, the government could be held liable for any damages the project inflicts on neighboring countries. [00:34:20][38.7]

Melinda Janki: [00:34:22] So you have a situation where Guyana's oil production could potentially destroy Caribbean economies. We're talking about billions of dollars worth of loss in addition to devastating the biodiversity of the region. And you can't put a price on that. It's all very well to say, well, we can compensate the tourism sector, but you can't walk into a shop and buy a new sperm whale. The wildlife that is in this part of the world is incredible. We have rare species and all of this is at risk because of this oil drilling and so has a permit. Now, if is in breach of that permit, who's liable? Well, of course we would say that there is liable. But I already told you, this is an offshore company that doesn't have billions of dollars worth of assets. It's going to come back to Guyana. [00:35:19][57.4]

Amy Westervelt: [00:35:20] In other words, if there's a massive spill in the region and nearby countries like Trinidad or Barbados have their fishing and tourism industries ruined by oil from Guyana, they're likely to come looking to Guyana for compensation. [00:35:33][13.2]

Melinda Janki: [00:35:35] Esso doesn't have the billions of dollars that it could compensates people for. And what happens then? Well, the Caribbean countries could come together and ask Guyana to pay compensation. Now, under international law, you can be liable for transboundary harm. [00:35:52][17.1]

Amy Westervelt: [00:35:53] Janki says there's every reason to believe that Diana would be found liable because even international financial analysts are calling attention to the lack of oversight on the project. [00:36:04][10.4]

Melinda Janki: [00:36:05] Guyana is not doing its due diligence. It's not ensuring that adheres to the Environmental Protection Act. It's not ensuring that Esso is running its operations properly. Why on earth would you allow somebody to continue producing oil when you know that their gas compressor is defective? What sort of government allows an oil company to operate above the safety limits? [00:36:32][26.6]

Amy Westervelt: [00:36:33] Then there's the pollution that's produced even when everything is working as it should. Greenhouse gases, which exacerbate climate change and volatile organic compounds and particulate matter which have been linked to lower life expectancy and a whole host of respiratory and cardiac issues are par for the course in oil and gas production. You cannot produce and refine oil and gas without generating carbon dioxide and methane. The two primary drivers of climate change in Guyana isn't just on the frontier of the global oil industry. It's also on the front lines of the climate crisis. Here's investigative journalist Antonia Juhasz again. [00:37:15][42.1]

Antonia Juhasz: [00:37:16] By 2030, Georgetown and most of the coast is expected to be underwater. [00:37:20][3.8]

Amy Westervelt: [00:37:21] That's the same year financial analysts predict Guyana will finally pay off Exxon. [00:37:26][5.0]

Melinda Janki: [00:37:27] I think it's really important that people stop thinking of Guyana as the developing country that needs to be helped and starts looking at us and saying, well, these these guys are a carbon sink and they are under threat because of Exxon Mobil and the other oil companies. And we have a responsibility to rein in those oil companies because those are oil companies coming from the global north. [00:37:55][27.6]

Amy Westervelt: [00:37:56] That's our story next time.