NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Environmental group Save The Bays yesterday suggested the government should broker a settlement with Equinor or sue to cover restoration costs of the East Grand Bahama oil spill.
However, Attorney General Carl Bethel told Eyewitness News Online the suggestion was premature.
“We have to get all the facts and things, so it will be most presumptuous,” Bethel said when asked if the government had considered litigation.
“I don’t know what the situation is. I haven’t been informed of anything by environment, so environment will be the one that gives me instructions.”
The roofs of storage tanks at the South Riding Point facility blew off during the passage of Hurricane Dorian, spilling nearly five gallons of crude oil.
The environmental group claims water testing conducted at five locations near the facility, indicate critical wetland habitats have been contaminated.
STB outlined a four-step restoration process in a report on the spill released yesterday.
“Step 1 is the pre-assessment to determine the extent
of the damage inflicted to the environment,” the report read.
“Step 2 is the assessment what can be restored and plan for the implementation. Once the planning is completed, a decision has to be made who will pay for the restoration (remember that clean up alone may not be sufficient).”
The STB report continued: “The clean-up and particularly the restoration cost will be very expensive. Hence, there will be a step where a settlement is made between the Bahamian Government and Equinor or the
issue will be litigated.
“The final step will be restoration,” it added.
Severe winds, rain and tidal surge spread the oil inland up to seven miles north of the facility on September 1-3.
While officials have confirmed some 175 acres of pine forest have been affected, STB expressed concerns the extent of the impact on wetlands remains unknown.
“The spill contaminated water in critical wetland habitat, including an area more than one mile away from the spill, according to sampling done by Waterkeepers Bahamas, Save the Bays, and Waterkeeper Alliance,” the report stated.
“The groups took water samples at five locations near the Equinor/STATOIL spill, sending 54 individual water samples to Environmental Chemists, a certified water testing lab in Wilmington, N.C.
“The water sample analysis shows distinct petroleum constituents, including alkanes, terpenes, and organic acid which were well above natural occurrence levels.”
The STB report continued: “The main concern is that the oil will eventually make its way deeper into the island’s scarce freshwater resources. These wetlands serve as a place where water is filtered before entering the underground water table. The oil, however, can diminish the quality of the island’s groundwater.
“Wildlife that call the wetlands home can obviously suffer, but so can people who depend on groundwater for drinking or freshwater resources for fishing.”
According to Equinor, 119,000 barrels or 4,998,000 gallons of oil were spilled. Of this, 36,299 barrels, or more than 1.4 million gallons of oil have been recollected so far.
STB said it was pleased with the clean-up effort and transparency shown by Equinor at this time; however, it noted a full scale cleanup should have begun sooner. The Ministry of Environment reported clean up crews arrived on September 18.
STB president Joseph Darville reportedly visited the site on October 2, according to the report. Darville alleged a number of Bahamians were engaged in clean- up exercises without protective gear. However, the report noted Equinor has denied any workers were in danger. The group maintained the facility should never have been built at South
Riding Point due to environmental factors and the frequency of hurricanes in the region.
It also reiterated its call for the proposed Oban project, a $5.5 billion oil refinery and storage facility, to be scrapped.
“While Equinor is a reputable international oil company based in Norway, Oban appears to be an opportunistic company with little experience in operating complex facilities such as refineries,” the STB report read.
“Oban must be stopped. Hopefully the Equinor oil spill can open the Government’s eyes to the high risk they are taking in permanently destroying the fragile eco-system of the Grand Bahama island.”
STB said removing the Equinox facility was the best option given the high risk associated with its environmentally sensitive location.
“No matter how strong the tanks are made, there is a considerable probability that the tank wall will rupture and that collapse will occur; the consequences of such an occurrence is extremely high.
“In other words, the risk of severe damage to both the onshore and aqueous ecosystems is very high.”
Notwithstanding this, the group stressed the facility must be strengthened with a focus on significantly improving secondary containment.
The group also called for Grand Bahama to have a fully staffed Department of Environmental Health with capacity for disaster response and regulatory oversight.
Referring to the island as the country’s “industrial capital”, the group called for a change in strategy from oil bunkering and refining facilities to renewable energy.
The group underscored there was growing research on the decline in use of fossil fuels as a primary energy source.
“The Government of the Bahamas should cease granting approval to all potentially hazardous industrial projects until the current proposed suite of environmental Bills is amended to take into account the lessons learned from Hurricane Dorian, and then passed by Parliament,” the STB report read.
“Those Bills must be reviewed to include a comprehensive disaster management plan with fully outlined and mandated SPCC (Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure regulations) and FRP (Facility Response Plan) provisions.”