NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) said it has “very serious concerns” over oil drilling in The Bahamas, arguing that the economic gains are “short term”.
In a statement, the BNT noted Minister of Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira recently indicated that the government has issued all necessary environmental clearances for Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) to drill its exploratory oil well and the Office of the Attorney General has advised that government is obligated to allow the drilling to proceed.
BPC is expected to drill its exploratory well prior to Christmas.
“While the BNT understands that complex negotiations may have resulted in the government being legally bound to honor this commitment, the organization has very serious concerns about The Bahamas allowing the exploration for possible exploitation of fossil fuels,” the BNT said.
“The Bahamas is known to be one of the most vulnerable nations on the planet to the impending impacts of climate change.
“It is now recognized as an existential threat to The Bahamas. The country, its people and their way of life could disappear if it is not successful as a global community in reversing the factors of a changing climate.
“Climate-charged Hurricane Dorian and the recent unprecedented number of concurrent named tropical storms and systems are clear indicators of climatic change.”
The BNT added: “The proposed initial well dubbed Perseverance-1 by BPC is within rowing distance of the Cay Sal Bank, one of the most ecologically productive and economically important marine systems in the country.
“The Cay Sal Bank Marine Protected Area (MPA) was declared a protected area by pronouncement and by National Gazette in September 2015.
“The globally significant declaration was in fulfillment of The Bahamas’ commitment to protecting 20 percent of the nearshore marine environment.
“It was also in fulfillment of inviolate obligations under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Full Sized project.
“Cay Sal has thriving marine life inclusive of commercially important species, including some of the last remaining viable populations of the queen conch.
“The importance of the Cay Sal Bank for biodiversity and the fishing industry in The Bahamas cannot be overstated.
“Because of its strategic importance, any pollution of the area would be devastating for The Bahamas and its fishing industry.”
The BNT noted that these historic leases were issued before some of the current UN and national environmental protocols and goals were established.
“It is also cognizant of the fact that the government of The Bahamas must consider economic development and has difficult decisions to make balancing economic activity whilst simultaneously protecting the environment,” read the statement.
“Notwithstanding the above, based on the country’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the threat of climate change to our very existence, the BNT strongly believes that The Bahamas should not, in 2020, be allowing the exploitation of fossil fuels within our country.
“The economic gains from exploiting and burning fossil fuels are short-term and are ironically helping to shorten the lifespan of these islands. The BNT is extremely concerned about the impacts of climate change and the general health of the environment of The Bahamas.
“The organization is extremely apprehensive about advancing oil exploration in the country.”
The BNT further noted that the country needs assurances that BPC puts in place as many safeguards as possible.
“The government of The Bahamas must ensure that it exercises due diligence with the implementation of international best practices and the industry must be regulated to the highest environmental standards,” the BNT said.
It added: “The BNT also recommends that if the operation does proceed, and if viable quantities of oil are found, that the government of The Bahamas would ensure that proceeds from its sale benefit Bahamians broadly and the environment in particular.
“It is noted that as legislation to govern this industry is advanced, that there was also legislation that established a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
“If there are to be proceeds from this industry, this is an opportunity to kick-start the Sovereign Wealth Fund — to allow for benefits to accrue to all Bahamians.
“From an environmental perspective, The Bahamas has also created the Bahamas Protected Areas Fund (BPAF) as a sustainable funding mechanism for protected areas throughout the country.
“As for a condition for the stated environmental clearances, and as a mitigation option, the BPAF could be the second beneficiary of any proceeds from this industry.
“This would be appropriate, in light of the fact that the proposed drilling activity is in such close proximity to one of the most ecologically and economically significant MPAs in our country.”