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Guyana asked on Tuesday the International Court of Justice to order Venezuela to stop a planned referendum on a potentially oil-rich territory which the two neighbors have disputed for over a century.
The dispute between Venezuela and Guyana regarding the Essequibo region is a long-running one, stemming from an arbitration decision from 1899, which gave control over Essequibo to the then-British colony Guyana.
Venezuela has not accepted the arbitration and recently moved to reinforce its claim over the territory with the referendum slated for December 3. The International Court of Justice said earlier this year it has jurisdiction over the issue after Guyana approached it in 2018 to rule on the ownership of the disputed territory. A final decision on the matter, however, may be still years away.
Guyana claims that Venezuela is seeking to annex the territory of 160,000 square kilometers (61,776 square miles) and that the referendum poses a threat to the territorial integrity of Guyana.
“It seeks to create a new Venezuelan state that purports to annex and incorporate into its own territory Guyana's entire Esequiba region, more than two thirds of its national territory and to grant Venezuelan citizenship to the population,” Carl Greenidge, Guyana’s representative, told Reuters.
Guyana has become a hotspot for exploration and development in recent years after Exxon and Hess found more than 11 billion barrels of oil equivalent offshore the South American country.
Currently, Guyana produces around 360,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude. Exxon, leading a consortium with Hess Corporation, is currently producing all the crude oil in Guyana—the world’s newest oil-producing nation, before the South American country announces winners in its first-ever offshore licensing round expected later this year.
Exxon is currently preparing to launch a sixth offshore oil project in Guyana, with $12.93 billion earmarked for its development.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com