Guyana, Suriname must share a potentially rich oil source, UN tribunal rules
The Associated Press
Published: September 20, 2007
PARAMARIBO, Suriname: A U.N. tribunal on Thursday gave both Suriname and Guyana access to an offshore basin believed rich in oil and gas deposits, settling a maritime boundary dispute that once escalated into the deployment of gunboats.
The ruling by the U.N. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is expected to bring a surge of exploration by major oil companies off the Atlantic coastline of the impoverished South American nations and could dramatically turn around their economic fortunes.
Guyana was handed the greater share of the basin, getting sovereignty over some 12,800 sq. miles (33,152 sq. kilometers) of coastal waters that had been in dispute. Suriname received some 6,900 square miles (17,871 sq. kilometers), according to a statement from the Washington law firm of Foley Hoag, which represented Guyana.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the coastal area off the two countries — called the Guyana-Suriname Basin — may hold recoverable oil reserves of roughly 15 billion barrels and gas reserves of 42 trillion cubic feet (1.19 trillion cubic meters).
The presidents of both countries applauded the ruling.
"The resolution of this dispute, which is now final and binding on the parties, will allow Guyana and Suriname to put this controversy behind them, and to proceed to cooperate as good neighbors," Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo said at a news conference in Guyana's capital, Georgetown.
In Paramaribo, President Ronald Venetiaan of Suriname said his government "is delighted and relieved that the maritime dispute with Guyana has been settled."
The U.N. tribunal established a maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname that differed from the boundaries previously claimed by the neighbors on the north shoulder of South America.
"The boundary for the most part follows the equidistance line between Guyana and Suriname," the Hamburg, Germany-based tribunal said.
In 2000, Suriname enforced its disputed claim by sending two gunboats to force a Canadian company, CGX Energy Inc., to withdraw its oil rig from the disputed area before it could drill under a license granted by Guyana.
Besides stalling oil exploration off the entire coasts of both nations, which are among the region's poorest, the dispute over the undersea blocks prompted both countries to strengthen their tiny militaries.
Guyanese Foreign Affairs Minister Rudy Insanally said the decision will allow the two countries to ease tensions and ramp up their economies.
"It will allow us both to exploit the vast resources we believe are out there and bring great economic benefit to the two (nations)," Insanally said.
Guyana has already granted oil exploration rights in the triangle of water that covers some 7,700 square miles (19,700 square kilometers).
CGX Energy Inc., based in Toronto, has secured exploration rights from Guyana's government for a 5,970-square-mile (15,280-square-kilometer) area that runs along the coast and is eager to resume exploration that was halted by the gunboats.
CGX president Kerry Sully described the basin as "one of the most attractive in the world" for oil and gas exploration.
Sully added that if one discovery were made offshore in either country, it would open up more exploration and development ventures and create significant employment and infrastructure-boosting opportunities.
Other companies with concessions in the disputed area include Exxon Mobil Corp. and Spanish-Argentine company Repsol YPF.
AP writers Bert Wilkinson in Georgetown, Guyana, and David McFadden in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.
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