Economic use value of the Belize marine ecosystem: Potential risks and benefits from offshore oil exploration

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Abstract

The announcement of plans for exploratory oil drilling at a number of offshore sites in Belize raised concerns about the risks associated with drilling, particularly given the socio-economic importance of the marine ecosystem. The current economic value of fisheries and marine ecotourism is estimated, along with the potential revenue from offshore oil and potential economic losses stemming from oil pollution, under various assumptions on risk and uncertainty. Marine fisheries and ecotourism are estimated to generate around US$ 183 million per year. Single-year estimated maximum revenue is higher for oil extraction initially but quickly declines; during a 50 year (two generation) period, total discounted benefits from marine fisheries and ecotourism are estimated at US$ 5.1 billion, compared to US$ 3.2 billion from offshore oil revenue. Following a hypothetical oil spill, discounted losses in marine fisheries and ecotourism due to perception and ecological impacts are estimated at US$ 912 million, with clean-up costs and capital losses of US$ 6.1-10.4 billion. Considering the short extraction life of oil resources compared to fisheries and ecotourism, the difference in benefits increases substantially in favour of the latter with a longer time horizon. A recent public referendum resulted in a 98% vote against oil exploration and a subsequent annulment of oil concessions pending environmental impact assessments.

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