The discovery of what may be significant oil deposits off the northern coast of South America has reignited a border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela, its neighbor to the west, according to a June 9 article by PennEnergy. The border dispute had been dormant for years until Exxon Mobil Corp. announced the oil discovery about 120 miles (193 kilometers) off the country’s coast in May.
ExxonMobil, exploring under an agreement with the Guyana government, is currently working to determine the commercial viability of the offshore oil field.
On June 8, Guyana's Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Venezuela of posing a "threat to regional peace and security" with a recent decree extending its territorial claims farther out into the Atlantic Ocean. The decree is a "flagrant violation of international law and is inconsistent with the principle that all states should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states," the ministry said in a statement.
Guyana added that any attempt by Venezuela to enforce its claims will be "vigorously resisted" and brought to the attention of the international community.
Venezuela has long claimed about two-thirds of Guyana west of the Essequibo River. Last month, the government of President Nicolas Maduro announced it was expanding its "integral maritime zone" farther out into the Atlantic Ocean in waters claimed by Guyana, clearly including the area where ExxonMobil reported the oil discovery.
In October 2013, the Venezuelan navy detained an oil research vessel operating under contract for Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. because it claimed it was conducting exploration in its waters without authorization. Guyana said the vessel was operating in its territory.