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Bush’s former oil firm
threatens sea turtles

Tuesday, April 10, 2001


The endangered green turtle, Chelonia mydas, has the largest nesting site in the Western Hemisphere at Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

Plans by a Texas oil company, Harken Energy Corporation, to drill for oil and natural gas off the Caribbean port of Limón in southeastern Costa Rica are being challenged by hundreds of scientists, and the company faces a legal challenge from indigenous people in the supreme court of Costa Rica.
The proposed drilling site is five miles off the coastline in a region referred to as the cradle of the Caribbean’s sea turtle populations.

All species of sea turtles are listed as endangered and are protected by an international treaty, the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles.

President George W. Bush is a former consultant and member of the board of directors at Harken Energy. The Dallas-based firm bought his nearly bankrupt oil and gas exploration business in 1986. Harken assumed $3.1 million in debt and swapped $2.2 million of its stock for Spectrum 7, Bush's company which had oil and gas reserves forecast to produce $4 million in future net revenue.

In September, the Harken oil project ran into legal trouble when the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Costa Rica made a preliminary ruling in favor of the area's indigenous people. They challenged the original bid award of the 1.4 million-acre oil concession contract to MKJ Xploration, Inc., now held by Harken Costa Rica Holdings, LLC, an 80 percent-owned subsidiary of the U.S. parent company.

The indigenous people maintain that they were not adequately consulted by the government prior to offering the exploration acreage for public tender.
In November, a Costa Rica court reversed part of its previous finding, supporting the indigenous challenge in two of the onshore concession blocks designated as reservations for indigenous people.
The court allowed Harken to submit an application to support its plans to drill for oil in the offshore portion of the concession area. The company says Harken's offshore exploration plans can proceed as planned on the Moin Prospect, the company's main drilling objective.

In a November statement, Mikel Faulkner, Harken's chairman, said, "We are pleased with the high court's actions in Costa Rica and applaud the timely deliberation and decision. Since the open legal issues do not affect the block that is our primary drilling objective, our operations should return to the normal pace soon." Plans to drill for oil in Costa Rica could threaten sea turtle habitat in several areas, including Tortuguero National Park, pictured here.But international advocacy groups have joined Costa Rican environmental groups in developing an international campaign to stop the oil development altogether.

In February, more than 800 sea turtle biologists and conservationists unanimously approved a resolution calling for the Costa Rican government to ban all oil exploration in its Caribbean marine areas. The scientists were gathered at the 21st International Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation in Philadelphia.

According to scientists at the symposium, Costa Rica has many of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the Western Hemisphere. Oil drilling not only threatens globally significant sea turtle nesting beaches but also endangers several species of sea turtles that use the offshore areas for mating and migration, the scientists warn.

Costa Rica President Miguel Angel Rodríguez has made protection of sea turtles a top priority, and poaching of nesting turtles and their eggs has been reduced significantly in recent years.

During Rodríguez's administration, Costa Rica ratified the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles in April 2000, pledging to "promote the protection, conservation and recovery of sea turtle populations and of the habitats on which they depend ...."

In Costa Rica, a grass-roots movement to stop the drilling is growing. Over the past two years, more than 40 organizations including indigenous groups, development associations, tourism boards, local communities, business owners, fishermen groups, environmental organizations, eco-tourism operators and religious leaders have been working as a coalition to stop Harken Energy Corporation’s plans to extract oil from their environmentally fragile tropical coast.

Roxana Silman, director in Costa Rica of the sea turtle conservation organization Caribbean Conservation Corporation, warns that a leak or spill, like recent major incidents off Brazil and the Galápagos, would devastate the abundant yet fragile biological resources of the region. "Local economies are dependent on these resources and their degradation or destruction could destroy the livelihoods of thousands of Caribbean families," she warned.

The Caribbean Conservation Corporation, based in Florida and Costa Rica, is the oldest sea turtle research and conservation group in the world, and has been studying and protecting sea turtles in the Caribbean for more than 40 years.

Silman said conservation-oriented Costa Ricans wonder why their government would risk exposing its fragile coastal and marine resources as well as its globally important sea turtles and nesting beaches to threats posed by oil development.

Harken is not likely to back off the large amount of oil believed to lie beneath near-shore waters of Costa Rica. Stephen Voss, Harken's vice president and chief operating officer, said in April 2000, "The Moin prospect is the largest structure that the company has ever tested, and it offers great exposure to Harken shareholders for the discovery of significant reserves."

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