GRANTED: Supreme Court grants leave for judicial review of exploratory oil drilling

GRANTED: Supreme Court grants leave for judicial review of exploratory oil drilling
The Stena IceMAX drillship. (PHOTO: BPC VIDEO)

Test well drilling to continue

NASSAU, BAHAMAS  — Supreme Court Justice Petra Hanna-Weekes today granted applicants leave to seek judicial review of the government’s approvals for Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) to drill an exploratory well in Bahamian waters, ruling that Save The Bays and Waterkeeper Bahamas Limited have “an arguable case”.

However, Weekes denied the applicants’ application for a stay of the ongoing drilling exercise — a process that began on December 20.

The drilling exercise is expected to be completed within 45 to 60 days of commencement and does not involve extracting any oil if found.

In court, Weekes said while the court has the discretion to order a stay, it is tantamount to an injunction and such an order should be to stay the “decision-making process and its implementation”.

She said: “…The decision-making process has been completed; the decisions have been implemented, and subsequently the joint exercise to which those decisions that were made has commenced. Therefore, to my mind, under the circumstances, there is no decision-making process to be stayed.

“I, therefore, accept the submission of Mr [Aiden] Casey, QC, is this regard. Further, as all parties have agreed this exercise is of great public importance, albeit for different reasons, I do not accept counsel for the applicant’s submission that the respondents at BPC would suffer no prejudice if such a stay was granted.”

The applicants are seeking to have quashed the respondents’, namely the government, decision to grant environmental approvals for BPC last year.

In court documents, the applicants made the case that the approvals granted to BPC for drilling an exploratory well in southwestern waters of The Bahamas were procedurally wrong, unfair and unlawful.

Fred Smith, QC, represents the applicants.

BPC applied to the court to become a part of the proceedings, though the company was not named as a respondent in the judicial review application.

The company has argued that the judicial review application was without merit, and relies on the affidavit of BPC CEO Simon Potter.

Casey, counsel for the government, has argued that the applicants do not have a strong prima facie case and the application for leave for judicial review is without merit.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court justice allowed the applicants to make amendments to their application to add an affidavit.

On the request for leave for an extension of time, Weekes said the court considered the matter carefully, including the timeframe and broader context.

She said it was clear the applicants were clearly engaged in monitoring the process of approvals.

She said there were “sufficiently good reasons” for the court extending the time and granted the extension of time.

“The respondents have failed to demonstrate what prejudice they would suffer…for an extension of time,” Weekes said.

Weekes, who delivered an oral ruling this morning, said she expected to hand down a written ruling this afternoon.

 

Security

Counsel for the government Franklyn Williams inquired as to security for cost of the judicial review proceedings.

However, Smith said the security for cost matter was the government’s attempt to “pull the rug out of a meritorious judicial review hearing”.

He asked Williams to take instructions again, and suggested it was not appropriate to use the procedurally “undermining tactics”.

Smith said: “Let’s get on with the hearing on the merits of this.”

Williams said he was inquiring to do just that.

Smith has said the government is seeking security for cost in the amount of $200,000.