Judge quashes Schlumberger’s licence to possess, use & store radioactive materials

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Justice Nareshwar Harnanan on Friday ordered the quashing by certiorari of an environmental permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in favour of Schlumberger (Guyana) permitting the company to construct a radioactive substances and materials storage and calibration facility at Lot 1 Area X Houston on the East Bank of Demerara (EBD).

The High Court Judge declared that the decision of the EPA to not conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) into the effects of the construction of the facility was illegal, ultra vires, unreasonable, irrational and in breach of the Environmental Protection Act.

He also granted an injunction against Schlumberger, commanding it to refrain from continuing the possession, use and storage of radioactive chemicals at the Houston facility unless and until it could obtain a lawful permit under the EPA Act.

Schlumberger was ordered to pay the applicants $250,000 in court costs.

This came after Attorneys-at-law –Siand Dhurjon, Ronald Burch-Smith and Malene Alleyne – on February 14, launched a lawsuit on behalf of three environmental activists and residents who live nearby the radioactive facility: Vanda Radzik, Danuta Radzik and Raphael Singh. The lawsuit named and sued the EPA, the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) and Schlumberger.

On 19th January of this year Schlumberger was approved by the EPA without any inkling of a notice given to the public to use, store and possess radioactive materials at its facility at Lot 1 Area X Houston, beside the East Bank Demerara public road. The public was not given any notice that such a permit was under consideration or sought at all by the EPA.

However, on April 11, the EPA had given notice to the public in the newspapers that Schlumberger wanted to construct a building to house the radioactive materials and that the construction process would not require an environmental impact assessment.

Upon seeing this, dozens of residents of the East Bank of Demerara formally objected to the waiver of the need for an environmental impact assessment into the construction process on the grounds that an EIA was inherently necessary and that radioactive materials should not be used and located near schools, neighbourhoods, a main thoroughfare, the demerara river, etc.

The EPA had convened a meeting with the said residents and their attorneys. The EPA assured that this was only for the construction aspect of the undertaking by Schlumberger and that they would get a better opportunity to speak on the merits and demerits of the actual radioactive storage facility’s operation when Schlumberger seeks an application for same.

Under Section 11 of the Environmental Protection Act, any project that may significantly affect the environment requires an environmental impact assessment and such an assessment requires publication in the newspapers of the intended project and consultations with the public.

On February 14, Vanda Radzik, Danuta Radzik and Raphael Singh sued the EPA and Schlumberger. According to public court documents, their lawyers had sued for an order of certiorari to quash the construction permit handed by the EPA to Schlumberger and an order of injunction to prevent Schlumberger from continuing any construction of the facility.

However, to the surprise of the residents, the EPA responded in defence of Schlumberger’s facility by Affidavit dated March 28, that construction of the radioactive facility was completed and that they had already permitted Schlumberger to use, possess and store radioactive substances at the facility since January.

The EPA submitted that the orders sought – to quash the construction permit – ought not be granted since both constructions had been completed and operation had already begun. The residents were granted an amendment by the Judge to seek orders targeting the operation of the facility, the use, storage and possession of radioactive materials by Schlumberger.

Schlumberger had stated in its affidavit that the reason the public did not need any notice that the EPA was considering a radioactive materials usage, possession and storage permit sought was because the EPA was satisfied that there would be no substantial impact on the environment and that the likely impact on the environment was not unclear.

However, the residents maintain that the use and storage of radioactive materials in Houston could significantly impact the environment and should be moved to a less populated area.

Schlumberger was represented by the law office of Hughes, Fields and Stoby, the EPA was represented by Attorney-at-Law Shareefah Parks and Frances Carryl and the residents were represented by Siand Dhurjon, Ronald Burch-Smith and Malene Alleyne, Attorneys-at-Law.

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