Media release

For immediate release

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Measures to secure radioactive tools and manage hazardous oil wastes must be made public

The Alliance For Change (AFC) is deeply concerned with the reported chaos and non- responsiveness meted to our Guyanese people by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at legislatively held public meetings related to locations of treatment, storage and disposal (TSD) facilities in their neighborhoods for the handling of highly toxic, hazardous, and radioactive wastes and material generated by oil companies’ operations.

Beyond the constant worry over the highly toxic and hazardous chemicals from oil and gas production, are also the anxieties being aroused by the introduction of facilities to store and manage radioactive wastes, materials and equipment in our neighborhoods, on our crowded streets, and in close proximity to our water and fresh air. Complaints to this effect are perpetually being brought to our attention, particularly from residents of East Bank Demerara where there appears to be an affinity for the location of such facilities and what appears to be a disturbing go-ahead from the Government of Guyana.

In oil and gas production, are the use of radioactive equipment sources, and the unearthing of radioactive material referred to as Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) which are the same as regular radioactive material, except for the source; hence still calls for careful handling and disposal. These radioactive materials come from different parts of the oil and gas production process including from drill cuttings, flowback and produced water, reinjected sea-water, pipe scale, sludges, sediments and filters.

The US Environmental Protection Agency notes that, “Wastes generated from oil and gas drilling must be properly managed to keep the radionuclides in these wastes from spreading to surrounding areas.” The Agency also highlights the likelihood of Radium getting into groundwater. On the coastland, groundwater from aquifers produces about 90 percent of the water we use – so understandable why we should all be concerned.

The International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA notes that “In the absence of suitable radiation protection measures, NORM in the oil and gas industry could cause external exposure during production….and internal exposures of workers and other persons, particularly during maintenance, the transport of waste and contaminated equipment, the decontamination of equipment, and the processing and disposal of waste. Exposures of a similar nature may arise also during the decommissioning of oil and gas production facilities and their associated waste management facilities, and that “The deposition of contaminated scales and sludge in pipes and vessels may produce significant dose rates inside and outside these components.”

Besides the generation of NORM, the oil and gas industry also utilizes critical tools and equipment for carrying out functions such as well logging and monitoring, and these carry a variety of radioactive sources which must be closely secured from the time of manufacture to final disposition or eternal storage after use. Failure to provide strong security and accountability for every piece of equipment, including during storage in secured facilities and transportation along our roadways, would risk getting into the wrong hands with a potential for fatal exposures and creation of dirty bombs.

Let it be made crystal clear that the AFC by its actions, fully supports the development of Guyana’s oil and gas sector, but is justifiably concerned that there appears to be less than adequate measures or plans in place, including oversight capabilities by our Government Agencies, to handle all radioactive, toxic and hazardous wastes produced by the oil companies operating here, in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

Therefore, in the best interest of the industry, and in order to allay the fears and mistrust of the people in the Government’s ability to protect the nation’s environment, safety and health wellbeing, the AFC demands that urgent attention be given to enhancing the capabilities for ensuring paramountcy of the environment, health, safety and general wellbeing of workers and general population, over the interest of high production. A systematic approach adopting internationally accepted standards for the safe and environmentally sound operation of TSD facilities and handling of NORM material and radioactive sources must be developed and legislated along with enforcement capabilities.

Specifically, the AFC is calling upon the government to publicly disclose in layman’s terms: the security plan for protecting the radioactive equipment sources from getting into wrong hands; a description of these never-before-seen wastes and radioactive equipment sources in Guyana; the ‘cradle to grave’ process, criteria and standards for evaluating and authorizing companies handling these wastes from the point of generation, through treatment, and to the point of final disposal; a general description of the types of waste treatment systems and technologies, and their treatment efficacies; the environmental, safety and health standards to be applied to the wastes and residuals upon entering the environmental media such as our clean water, air and soil; the environmental, safety and health risks to be posed by these TSD facilities; and the process with criteria used for determining whether or not an Environmental Impact Assessment is needed for a project.