Belize adopts offshore drilling moratorium

The Central American country of Belize has quietly banned offshore drilling in its maritime territories to protect its coral reefs and fishing industry, Kallanish Energy reports.

All operations tied to oil and natural gas drilling in the Caribbean Sea bordering the country are permanently blocked in a move to protect eco-tourism.

It is the first time a developing country had adopted such a moratorium to protect its maritime assets from damaging oil exploration and extraction, eco-groups said.

The moratorium was adopted to protect the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. The 200-mile-long Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is part of a 560-mile-long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef along Belize’s east coast.

The Petroleum Operations Act 2017 (Maritime Zone Moratorium) was first proposed last August. It was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was signed by Belize’s governor-general.

Offenders face a $3 million fine and/or two years in prison.

The moratorium, in the works for seven years, was strongly supported by the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage and eco-groups, including Oceana Belize and the World Wildlife Fund.

“Belizeans agree that offshore oil drilling is a bad idea,” Oceans Belize said in a December Facebook post. It called the government’s action historic and a landmark. The moratorium comes after a blocked referendum and court battles, the eco-group said.

Tourism generates more than $200 million a year in Belize, according to estimates. Reef-related tourist activities include diving, to snorkeling, to wildlife watching. The reef fishery supports 200,000 jobs, supporters said.

Belize produces about 5,000 barrels of oil per day. One company, Belize Natural Energy, is active.

The country passed a similar ban on offshore drilling in 2013, but later backed exploration.