Guyana Offshore


Offshore Guyana

Project risks:

Environmental Destruction, Litigation, Social Harm


  • Exxon Mobil Corporation
  • CNOOC Ltd
  • Hess Corporation
  • QatarEnergy
  • TotalEnergies SE
  • Tullow Oil plc
  • Repsol SA
  • Frontera Energy Corporation
  • Ratio Petroleum Energy LP
  • CGX Energy Inc
  • JHI Associates Inc
  • Cataleya Energy Corporation
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approximate location

Exxon’s Ultra Deep-Water for Oil Puts Guyana at Risk

Exxon’s deep-water drilling in front of Guyana’s coast is threatening the South American country. Guyana is one of the world's countries most endangered by rising sea levels. 80 percent of the 791,000 inhabitants live on a dip of land 1.8 m (5.1 ft) below sea level.[1] [2] Already, storms are overtopping the hip-high seawall, flooding the capital Georgetown and farmers’ land.[3] [4] In times of global warming and rising sea levels, Exxon, CNOOC and Hess are developing a huge oil project in Guyana.

Guyana’s capital city Georgetown lies below sea level and only has a hip-high sea wall that protects it from the sea. Credit: Tom Vierus

Paradise Under Threat

Before the oil companies came, Guyana’s beautiful nature attracted visitors. People came to see rare birds like the Harpy Eagle, Capuchin bird and the bright orange Cock-of-the-Rock.[5] [6] [7] Guyana still has one of the largest unspoiled rainforests in South America.[8] The tropical forests are home to jaguars, pumas, giant otters, giant armadillos and capuchin monkeys.[9] [10] [11] Guyana has abundant wind, water and sun and the perfect basis to develop renewable energies.[12]  

Cock-of-the-Rocks are some of the beautiful birds that live in Guyana. Credit: Tom Vierus

In 2019, Guyana received the award for the World's No.1 Ecotourism Country.[13] There are very good reasons for this. Tropical rainforest covers almost 80% of the country.[14] Further south, lie the Rupununi savannah lands.[15] In the north, there is Shell Beach, the only officially protected area along the coast.[16] This is where rare sea turtles such as the Leatherback, Olive Ripley, Hawksbill and Green Turtle lay their eggs and hatch their young.[17]

Almost 80% of the country is covered in rainforest. Credit: Tom Vierus

Exxon, Hess and CNOOC

However, the oil fields Exxon, Hess and CNOOC have discovered in the Guyana-Suriname Basin are huge and manifold. In 2015, the companies hit a gigantic oil field in their Stabroek Block.[18] Exxon drilled a 7,176 m (23,543 ft) deep well to reach the oil.[19] The well, Liza-1, lies 190 km (118 mi) off Guyana’s

In December 2019, Exxon, CNOOC and Hess delivered “First Oil”.[21] Since then, Exxon and its partners have made 20 oil discoveries.[22] Exxon is eager to extract as much oil out of the deep sea as quickly as possible.[23] Exxon’s future as an oil company depends on Guyana and the company has begun to concentrate most of its industrial supply chain equipment at Guyana’s coast.[24]

No Ecological Mapping 

Exxon only submitted a poorly executed  Environmental Impact Assessment that probably did not meet Guyanese legal requirements.[25] Exxon failed to spend the necessary time and money to engage marine scientists to map the plants and animals that live and migrate along the South Caribbean coast.[26] The threats to fish and marine mammals in the open sea, to crabs and smaller sea animals in the shallow coastal waters and to birds and fish that breed in the mangroves will grow as Exxon, CNOOC and Hess’ oil exploitation continues.

Deathly Seismic Exploration

Many people are not aware of the destruction that oil and gas searches cause in ultra-deep waters. The geological and geophysical surveys to understand the location and the extent of oil and gas deposits include methods that strongly impact marine species. “Offshore oil and gas exploration uses deafening seismic surveys that generate the loudest humanmade sounds in the ocean, short of those made by explosives. Seismic testing involves blasting the seafloor with high-powered air every 10 seconds and measuring the echoes with long tubes to map offshore oil and gas reserves. These blasts disturb, injure and kill marine wildlife around the clock for years on end.”[27]

Buoyed by their success, Exxon and other oil companies have continued exploring for oil and gas in the deep waters along the South Caribbean Coast. What this means for migration pathways of marine animals remains undocumented.

What Happened to Guyana’s Benefits?

Guyana’s former government negotiated contracts that shifted all the risks to Guyana and the benefits to Exxon, Hess and CNOOC.[28] It is not surprising that the contract conditions are so one-sided. As it became public later, Exxon had already transferred a USD 18 million signing bonus to an account owned by the government in 2016.[29]

At the same time, the Stabroek Production Sharing Agreement with the Guyanese government is highly favorable to Exxon, CNOOC and Hess.[30] [31] The government has exempted the companies from paying many taxes.[32] The Production Sharing Agreement also dictates that Guyana first has to pay all of ExxonMobil's development costs before it gets its share of the profit.[33] Guyana’s contract with ExxonMobil is structured in such a way that Exxon can continue to charge Guyana for every newly developed oil field.

In-Country Resistance

The Guyanese people are increasingly opposed to the oil project because of the environmental, economic and financial risks for Guyana. International lawyer Melinda Janki is leading the fight against Exxon. She has already filed 3 cases against the oil project. One case is currently in the Court of Appeal. The second case cut ExxonMobil’s environmental permits down from 23 years to 5 years.[34] The third case was filed in May 2021 and is the first climate change constitutional case in the region. It challenges the oil project as contrary to the right to a healthy environment.[35] The litigants are a scientist, and an indigenous Wapichan person from the Rupununi region.[36] They argue “that the government breached its legal duties to protect its citizens’ rights to a healthy environment, sustainable development, and the rights of Guyana’s future generations.”[37] While this case is currently proceeding in the High Court, more cases are likely to follow in the future.

Groups working in Guyana: A Fair Deal for Guyana - A Fair Deal for the Planet (Guyanese grassroots people’s movement), Justice Institute Guyana, Organisation for the Victory of the People, Transparency Institute Guyana Inc.
Groups outside of Guyana include Center for International Environmental Law, ELAW