Environmental Impact Assessments, Cooperation, Contract, Permits, Damages, Forests
Sarstoon - Temash National Park is an area in the south-eastern part of Belize, declared a national park in 1994 under s. 3 of the National Parks System Act. SATIIM was a corporate body whose objectives included to co-manage the National Park with the Government in harmony with the aspirations of the indigenous peoples of the area, and to ensure the participation of the indigenous communities and to support their needs and priorities. The cooperation between SATIIM and the Forest Department was based on a "co-management agreement". In 2005, SATIIM learnt that US Capital Energy Belize Ltd. had entered a contract with the Government that allowed the company to carry out exploration for oil work in an area that included the Sarstoon-Temash National Park. Subsequently a permit was issued to the Company to carry out seismic surveys. SATIIM was concerned that the surveys would be destructive to the ecosystem in the park. Apart from that they alleged that seismic testing was an aspect of oil exploration and required an environmental impact assessment. They asked the court for interim orders to stay the permit and to restrain U.S. Capital Energy Belize Ltd. from conducting seismic surveys in the park while the case proceeded to determination. The court was of the view that the decision to grant permission to enter the park and conduct seismic surveys was not unreasonable. The Department in charge considered the benefits that the people of Belize could receive from exploration of a possible oil reserve, and the need of conservation of the environment, and deliberately opted for the possible benefit from petroleum if found and exploited. This choice was not unreasonable. The ground, however, that according to the Environmental Protection Regulations seismic testing was an aspect of oil exploration and required an environmental impact assessment, was an arguable ground. This was sufficient to base an allegation for an order to stay the decision of the relevant authority to grant permission for the conduction of seismic surveys, and for an order to stay the permit issued. The damage to the ecosystem could be irreversible, and an award for damages would not be an adequate relief if interim preservation orders would be refused and SATIIM should finally win the case. The application for interim orders was therefore granted.