Bahamas Petroleum Company is getting ready to launch into the dangerous process of drilling for oil in our seabed, based on an expired Environmental Impact Assessment that is full of inaccuracies and outdated information.
The EIA, a requirement under the new Environmental Planning and Protection Act, clearly ‘expired’ six months ago. If you look at the document, available online, the drilling dates are still listed as February 24, 2020, to April 13, 2020.
The ship listed to do the drilling is still the West Saturn owned by SeaDrill, despite the fact that BPC is now going with ICE Max, owned by a company called Stena instead.
Some parts of the EIA seem to be so old that they were written several years ago and never updated since. For example, it talks about a “proposed protected area” at Cay Sal Bank near the drill site. In fact, that protected area was made official back in 2015. Nor does it mention two more recently proposed protected areas, also near the drill site.
The truth is that the EIA is a poor study in general, containing tons of incomplete or irrelevant content. For example, it lists more than 20 Bahamas laws that it says contain some kind of environmental protection rules, but says nothing about the specifics of these rules or how the company plans to comply. What is the point of listing them, then? Just to take up space one presumes.
It just seems to have been thrown together carelessly some years ago, then wheeled out and lightly revised for submission in February. With all the extra information stuck in there at random, it seems like the point was to overwhelm the reader and discourage him or her from looking at the details too closely.
“Why do any of these technicalities matter?” – you might ask. In fact, they matter a great deal.
For example, the original timeline limited them to only three weeks of drilling for a reason. Offshore drilling is extremely dangerous and the longer it goes on, the greater the danger of a catastrophic spill. If BPC is now allowed to begin now without a new approved timeline, having failed to replace the expired one, what is to stop the drilling from going on indefinitely? There is no new end date on paper anywhere, as far as the public record is concerned.
As regards the change in ships, the West Saturn carries special equipment aboard which is key to the original safety plan for drilling. Does the new ship carry the same equipment and can it carry out the new safety plan adequately? We just don’t know.
This is particularly worrying due to the troubling safety record of the new company, Stena, which was convicted and fined in 2015 for an incident that killed two workers in Australia. Stena was also responsible for a near disaster in 2016 when a falling 20-ton steel pipe almost struck an underwater oil well off Canada, which surely would have caused a massive spill. Have they disclosed any of this to the government? Was the new ship that will be drilling in Bahamian waters involved in either of these incidents? Again, we just don’t know.
With regard to using pre-2015 information on protected areas, this has allowed BPC to go on to make public pronouncements that there are no important marine resources anywhere near the drill site when this is simply not the case. In fact, it could not be further from the truth. The site is literally surrounded by protected areas and proposed protected areas.
Given the change in schedule, the change in drilling ship, and the incorrect information about the protected areas, among other serious flaws, this EIA now out-of-date and must be updated to reflect reality. They must be made to resubmit the document for consideration and approval, or else it would make a mockery of our new Environmental Act. No drilling should be allowed to take place in the interim.