former oil firm
threatens sea turtles
April 10, 2001
endangered green turtle, Chelonia mydas, has the largest
nesting site in the Western Hemisphere at Tortuguero,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 ...."
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
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,"
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.
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
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."
2001, Environmental News Network
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