NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Environmentalist coalition Our Islands, Our Future has publicly expressed its objection to Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) allegedly attempting to join judicial review proceedings, claiming it to be a scheme to “price its opponents out of justice”.
A statement released by the group read: “During the process, it has also become clear that the Bahamas Petroleum Company does not want its opponents to win or lose on the strength of the case.
“No doubt fearful that the applicants will be successful, the company instead seems determined to price its opponents out of justice before they ever get their day in court.
“The judicial review matter is between oil drilling opponents and the government, and concerns whether or not officials granted various approvals for this project correctly.
“Attorney for the applicants Fred Smith, QC, made it clear that there is no objection to BPC being heard by the court as an interested stakeholder and also asked that the matter be heard as quickly as possible.
“However, BPC is not content to just be heard, but rather insists upon intervening by applying to become a party to the matter, even though no one is suing them.
“In many previous public interest judicial review proceedings, this move has been used as a precursor to apply for ‘security for costs’ — a bond, likely in the many millions of dollars, that drilling opponents would have to produce upfront in order to continue with their case.
“This tactic is used by powerful interests precisely because concerned citizens do not often have the resources to cover teams of expensive lawyers, nor withstand the various obstructive tactics which are often brought to bear, in the event that they lose.
“A short, self-contained hearing on the merits of the application would ensure that justice is not priced out of the reach of regular individuals. But once joined, the oil company can draw out the case as long as possible, driving up costs or until their project is complete and the challenge is rendered effectively meaningless.”
Environmental groups Waterkeeper Bahamas Limited and Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay filed the application in the Supreme Court for leave to bring judicial review proceedings against the decision to approve exploratory oil drilling in The Bahamas.
The application names Minister of the Environment Romauld Ferreira, Environmental Protection and Planning Director Rochelle Newbold and Attorney General Carl Bethel as respondents.
Last Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Petra Hanna-Weekes denied the application for leave to bring the application out of time with the respect to the February and April decisions only.
Attorney Fred Smith, QC, who represents the applicants, argued that while the judge had the jurisdiction to approve the application on paper, she did not have the jurisdiction to deny those applications on paper without a hearing.
To this, the judge said she would take the submissions under consideration.
She is expected to provide an update on what will be heard, and the matter will resume on Tuesday.
Our Islands, Our Future’s statement continued: “Our Islands Our Future hopes that over the next few days, the government will consider supporting the applicants’ desire for a swift hearing and resolution of this matter.
“They were advised in writing weeks ago of this challenge, and should not need any more time to file evidence in what is really a straightforward case.”
Despite pushback from environmentalists, BPC last week began drilling its exploratory oil well in Bahamian waters.
During last Thursday’s Supreme Court session, BPC’s attorney Clare Montgomery, QC, said now that drilling has begun, it is “impossible to halt it”.