By Clifford Krauss | New York Times
An oil-exploration ship contracted by Exxon Mobil suspended operations off the coast of Guyana over the weekend after it was approached by a Venezuelan navy vessel in a renewal of a century-old border dispute.
The Venezuelan navy did not board the ship, a Norwegian vessel that was conducting seismic testing in Guyanese waters 90 miles from the internationally recognized border Saturday morning. The ship sailed away to safer waters.
The episode occurred only hours after the shaky Guyanese coalition government lost a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly late Friday, beginning what promises to be a volatile national election campaign. Meanwhile, President David A. Granger is battling cancer as his government falters.
Guyana has become one of the hottest oil patches in the hemisphere since Exxon Mobil started finding oil in 2015, which has so far amounted to five billion barrels of reserves. The discoveries have rekindled charges by Venezuela that it was cheated by an 1899 Paris arbitration tribunal and that Caracas rightfully claims nearly two-thirds of its English-speaking neighbor.
After Exxon Mobil announced its early discoveries, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela issued a decree establishing maritime defense zones in Guyanese waters. He later backtracked on the decree, although the claim over Guyana gives Mr. Maduro a nationalistic issue while his government’s popularity and the nation’s economy are in free fall.
Five years ago, the Venezuelan navy briefly detained an oil-exploration ship contracted by Anadarko and the Guyanese government. Since then most exploration has been well east of Venezuela.
Guyana has a population of only 750,000 and is one of South America’s poorest countries. Oil production, which is scheduled to begin in 2020, is expected to transform the country’s economy.
The episode this weekend could slow exploration along the western Atlantic coast, but should not stop drilling altogether. Neither Venezuela nor Guyana has the military wherewithal to go to war. Venezuela is running short of fuel and food, and its military has its hands full keeping the regime in power.
One of Exxon Mobil’s partners in Guyana is the Chinese oil company Cnooc. Since China is an ally of the Venezuelan regime and its most important creditor, it is unlikely that Caracas would undercut a Chinese oil company.
Still, tensions persist.
On Saturday morning the Ramform Tethys, a vessel owned by the Norwegian company Petroleum Geo-Services, was conducting seismic testing in search of oil when the Venezuelan ship approached.
Exxon Mobil said in a statement that the seismic operations in the area “have been paused until they can be safely continued.” It added, “Our main concern is for the safety of crew members and others in the area.” The Guyanese government expressed alarm, although the Norwegian company said the Venezuelans did not board the ship.
“Guyana rejects this illegal, aggressive and hostile act,” the nation’s foreign ministry said in a statement. It added that the Venezuelan navy action “violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country.”
Venezuelan officials did not comment publicly.
After a United Nations commission failed to settle the border issue earlier this year, the International Court of Justice took up the issue. Venezuela has refused to participate in the proceedings.
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Bron: New York Times