NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Oil exploration and drilling opponents have expressed excitement and surprise over Prime Minister’s recent comments opposing oil drilling, with a local QC calling for the government to “shine the light” on the Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) licenses.
The company has planned to commence drilling an exploratory well before the end of the year, however, a consortium of environmental organizations and activists have filed for a judicial review of decisions by the government in granting environmental approvals and license renewals to BPC. They claim the evidence suggests those decisions were procedurally unfair, unlawful and an abuse of power by the government. Opposition to the oil exploration and drilling has attracted international support, with Hollywood A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio among those opposing the move. BPC, for its part, has been vocal in defense of its operations in recent weeks, slamming the judicial review application as “entirely without legal basis or merit” in a recent statement.
QC Fred Smith, who is leading the legal charge, told Eyewitness News: “I am very excited that the prime minister has in fact provided evidence to support the evidence of Joe Darville, chairman of Save The Bays, who has sworn an affidavit that Minister [of the Environment Romauld] Ferreira said this government would not support oil exploration in The Bahamas. I invite the attorney general to come clean with the Bahamian public, to make discovery and provide copies of these license agreements and all of the renewals so Bahamians can see what type of deal both the PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) and FNM (Free National Movement) struck with BPC.”
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said last week that it is not his dream to drill for oil in the territorial waters of The Bahamas, insisting he has remained totally against it. Minnis suggested he would have backed out of the deal with BPC “if we could have gotten out of it”.
“I am totally against oil drilling in our waters,” Minnis said. ”I have said that before, that has not changed. Unfortunately, we were saddled with an agreement that we met there and when we discussed it with the legal department we were advised that the commitment and everything was signed basically and we could not get out of it.”
He continued: “But if we could have gotten out of it, believe me I am against, totally, drilling for oil in our waters.”
BPC is using Stena Drilling’s drillship Stena IceMAX to spud its first well Preservation #1 some 90 miles west of Andros.
Smith said: “The FNM has always touted itself as the government in the sunshine. Well, it’s time to shine some light on this BPC deal. This is not an ego fight between Fred Smith and Carl Bethel. This is about the future of The Bahamas. I hope he is not going to fight us in the style the government has traditionally fought the NGOs.”
He continued: “This is a matter of great public importance and should not be derailed. They have already applied for security for costs, that is try to get Save The Bays and Waterkeeper to post a bond. What gall this company has to try and prevent thousands of Bahamians who have signed the petition against oil exploration and drilling to have their day in court. I am very keen and excited to get this to trial as quickly as possible.”
Joseph Darville, of Save The Bays and Waterkeeper Bahamas, said: “I think his (Minnis’) comments took a lot of people by surprise. For him to come out and unequivocally state that he does not agree with oil drilling in The Bahamas, I salute him highly for that. His words speaks volumes to how we are going to look at this now. If we are taking the government to court, it gets very complicated. I would have thought they could have stopped, reviewed and canceled the commitment made by the previous government. We will just have to wait and see.”
The opposition has disputed the suggestion that the Minnis administration had met in place an irrevocable arrangement, but Attorney General Carl Bethel told Eyewitness News: “The opposition needs to stop playing politics.”