NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Following extensive submissions from counsel on opposing sides, Supreme Court Justice Petra Hanna-Weekes said today she will rule as soon as possible on an application for judicial review of the government’s approval for Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) to drill an exploratory well.
The drilling exercise for the well, Perseverance #1, is underway some 90 miles west of Andros and is expected to be completed within 45 to 60 days.
Waterkeepers Bahamas has applied for judicial review and an application for an amendment to add an additional affidavit.
The respondents, namely the government, have applied to stay the application for grant of leave for judicial review.
BPC has also filed a summons to intervene in the judicial review proceedings.
Aiden Casey, QC, on behalf of the government, argued that the course of action that presented the least risk to the environment, as well as investor confidence, would be to allow BPC to complete the drilling of its exploratory well rather than stop “at this late stage”.
He said the matter being of public interest is not a strong argument for the delay and an extension of time, as there is precedence and respect for the duty to act promptly.
Casey said the well will never serve for the extraction of oil and will be capped once the exercise is completed.
He said the Bahamian people deserve to know whether there is oil in The Bahamas, but that does not mean approval will be granted to drill for oil beyond the exploration exercise.
On the application for a stay of the exercise “at this late stage”, Casey said there is a further risk if BPC is essentially kicked off the project that future investors and commercial operators could very well decide they’re “not going to get involved either”.
He also argued that to stop the exploratory well exercise at this stage, there could be environmental risks and the course of action offering the least risk is to allow drilling to proceed.
BPC’s counsel, Clare Montgomery, QC, made similar points and said there was no question about offenses being committed.
She called the arguments of the application “hopeless”.
She also noted that nearly half a million dollars is being expended every day, adding that the sunk cost amounts to $9.1 million and around $25 million is exposed.
As it relates to halting drilling, Montgomery said while there are provisions to stop drilling in the event of a hurricane, for example, the process should only be performed in a genuine emergency.
She said the pressure management of the drilling equipment is critical to be maintained as a vital safety mechanism for the ordinary operation of the exploratory exercise, and should not be risked on the basis of a late application.
The government is also seeking security for cost of $200,000 for the entire action or to have it dismissed.
Counsel for the applicants, Fred Smith, QC, said today that while the summons for the security was previously filed, it was only served on the applicants last night.
The attorney said the matter should have been a simple ex parte application for judicial review, but it has become somewhat of a “mountain of papers, which would befit a federal case”.
Smith said the government and BPC have marshaled a “small army of lawyers”.
“We are now climbing Mount Kilimanjaro,” he told the court.
“I would like to bring the court’s focus back to the matter that we are supposed to be on.”
Smith said the court was not hearing a trial, but a low threshold the applicants had to meet for judicial review.
He called the application for leave and to amend the application a simple matter, in which the environmentalists seek to challenge approvals the respondents provided to BPC leading up to the company drilling an exploratory well for oil.
“All we are asking is permission to start a case,” Smith argued, noting that Waterkeeper Bahamas was relying on the constitutional provision for a right to a fair trial.
He said the government has done everything possible to deny that right, underscoring the application to secure cost evidenced this.