NASSAU, BAHAMAS — A group of US representatives are expressing their opposition to Bahamas Petroleum’s oil exploration efforts and are seeking to dissuade the Bahamian government from authorizing exploratory drilling.
Key concerns are penned in an April 17th letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Stephanie Bowers the Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Nassau by Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell along with several other representatives.
Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) initially announced their intention to drill as soon as April 2020 however a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has delayed drilling until later this year.
The letter stated: “As coastal and near-coastal Member of Congress who have been fighting for years to protect the Atlantic Ocean, Straits of Florida, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico from the threat of expanded offshore drilling in US waters, this news is cause for great concern.
“As the representatives of Florida and East Coast communities, we respectfully ask you to join us in protecting the shared coastal economies and ecosystems of the United States and The Bahamas from offshore drilling by advocating to the Bahamian government that it should deny BPC any authorizations necessary to begin exploratory drilling.”
The letter pointed to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Eleven people were killed and a US government study estimated the seafood industry lost nearly $1 billion, and the recreation industry lost more than a half-billion dollars following the disaster.
The letter urged the Bahamian government to learn from the Deep Water Horizon disaster.
It read: “Introducing offshore drilling to The Bahamas also goes directly against recent efforts in that nation to expand The Bahamas National Protected Areas System, which works to preserve marine habitats and protect Bahamian resources.
“It would be unfortunate to bring environmental risk to these marine sites with the prospect of oil pollution, as they provide critical ecosystem benefits like food security and coastal protection. A healthy ocean is the foundation of a coastal way of life in both the United States and The Bahamas. Coastal communities thrive when there is a healthy marine environment. Introducing the threat of an offshore drilling disaster would threaten that foundation.”
The local conservation community is also urging the government to pay heed to the concerns expressed by the members of Congress and reiterated concern over BPC’s plans to drill exploratory wells in waters to the south and west of Andros.
Waterkeeper Bahamas executive director Rashema Ingraham said the group was heartened and encouraged by the strong stance taken by congresswomen.
Save The Bays chairman Joseph Darville said: “Congress has thankfully acknowledged what we have been saying from the beginning.
“The environmental risks of this ill-conceived plan are astronomical and the fallout from an accident would be absolutely devastating – not just for the Bahamas, but also for our valued strategic partner to the north. The dangers far outweigh any conceivable potential benefit. Congress members are absolutely justified in heeding the lessons of history.”
Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, Bahamas Reef Environment and Educational Foundation (BREEF) executive director, noted that no progress has been made to reduce the dangers of off-shore oil drilling since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, adding the US is still feeling the repercussions a decade later.
Save The Bays legal director Fred Smith, QC, noted that successive Bahamas governments have failed to effectively oversee the implementation of environmental protection laws.
“For instance, the Planning and Subdivision Act and the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape Act are routinely ignored by legislators in giving the green light to industrial projects. Why would anyone assume that in regard to oil exploration, they will suddenly become responsible stewards of the environment?
“Having laws and enforcing those laws are two completely different matters and the Bahamas has shown itself to be in capable of systematically ensuring that some of the very good laws passed by Parliament are administered. We still don’t have a Freedom of Information Act so we don’t know what permits have or have not been issued, under what circumstances, and there was no consultation. These are fundamental underpinnings for transparency demanded by civil society for decades now.”
Waterkeeper Bahamas’ Rashema Ingraham added that the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology (BEST) commission which advises the government, had raised concerns in the past and asked BPC to give more information regarding its environmental protection protocols, but it is unclear if this was ever complied with.
The environmental community called on the government of the Bahamas to respond to the Congress members’ letter promptly and to immediately revoke the exploratory license granted to BPC.