By Rogan Smith
If we’ve never listened to environmentalists before, I think we need to listen to them now because, as we have learned, ignorance comes at a price.
It’s been three weeks since Hurricane Dorian blew six tank roofs off of Equinor’s oil storage facility at its South Riding Point terminal in East Grand Bahama, causing a major oil spill. To date, it remains unknown just how many barrels of oil have spilled.
Equinor says its oil spill recovery has been “ramped up significantly,” with 104 responders and large-scale equipment arriving on site, like absorbent pads/rolls and oil spill recovery skimmers.
Meantime, the company says it is continuing to survey a wide area for potential offshore spills, and so far no oil spills have been observed at sea.
I have no idea how long this clean-up exercise, but it goes without saying that this is not good. Environmentalists say the spill will continue to poison the water table, the soil and anything in the marine environment it comes into contact with.
It’s not hard to imagine what would have happened if this situation was even worse.
Environmentalist and ReEarth President, Sam Duncombe says the government’s response to the Equinor spill was “flaccid” to say the least.
“We were in no position to handle a catastrophe of the magnitude Hurricane Dorian blew on our shores. Imagine an oil spill,” she said.
“Just look at the oil that was blown out of Equinor’s tanks. No matter what they say, that oil can never be cleaned up. They are still finding oil under rocks where the Exxon Valdez ran aground some 30 years or more ago. This oil remains in the surviving fish and birds which are eaten by people and then we get to keep those contaminants in our bodies.”
Grand Bahama has been in the crosshairs of major hurricanes for years, and they have gotten even more powerful due to climate change. Unless there is a major turnaround, we can expect that The Bahamas will continue to experience hurricanes of the Category 5 magnitude.
Should Grand Bahama, which houses these oil storage facilities, get the brunt of the storm, we could be looking at natural and environmental disasters.
This recent oil spill has led local environmentalists to renew their calls to scrap the Oban deal.
The government granted Oban – a company with no known history in the oil business – approval to develop a $5.5 billion oil storage and refinery facility in Grand Bahama.
In addition to Oban, the Minnis administration has already given oil and gas exploration company, Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) approval to drill an exploratory oil well before the end of 2020.
The government, understandably, is under pressure to deliver Grand Bahama from the economic quicksand it’s been in for years. But, it cannot come in this form.
Remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of April 2010? It was the largest marine oil spill in the petroleum industry’s history and an absolute environmental disaster.
I think few people will forget this record-setting oil spill or the images that flashed across our TV screens daily as we watched oil gush unabatedly into the Gulf of Mexico. An estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil spilled into the ocean during this incident.
Multiple efforts to contain the flow failed and it took nearly three months for it to be sealed. By then, the damage was done.
BP, the company responsible for this disaster, was subsequently fined $20.8 billion to cover damages caused by the disaster. It was also ordered to pay $5.5 billion to settle civil damages.
But, here’s the difference between The Bahamas and the United States of America: laws.
Unlike the United States, we don’t have a National Environmental Policy Act, an Oil Pollution Act or a Clean Air Act. In fact, we have no Environmental Protection Act. That fact is mind-blowing, considering that we are a climate-vulnerable nation with oil refineries and we frequently welcome cruise ships. What’s more, we market our beaches and beautiful waters extensively to tourists.
Even with Oban and BPC on the table, our government is still not making an Environmental Protection Act a priority.
Still, Duncombe wants us to go further.
“Oban needs to be scrapped entirely. LNG also needs to be scrapped. BPC drilling for oil needs to go,” said Duncombe.
“We need to aggressively pursue renewable energy and ditch fossil fuels. I get that it cannot be done overnight, but we are hibernating on the renewable issue. And as a country, we need to go to the United Nations and get support in terms of reduced emissions,” she said.
The activist says the government also needs to stop being selective about which environmental organizations it works with.
“The cherry picking of which groups they choose to include in any discussion regarding the environment is infantile,” she said. “We don’t have to marry each other, we just need to work together.”
One thing is certain, our nation’s leaders better start thinking fast about this situation. We certainly want investments, but we need the right investments. If not, we’d better get ready to revise our slogan to: Sun, Sand, Sea and Oil Spills.