Oct 08

Bahamas Petroleum Company: more questions than answers

Opponents of oil drilling are accusing Bahamas Petroleum Company of lacking transparency and recklessly attempting to downplay the grave dangers inherent in all offshore drilling.

Our Islands, Our Future, a broad-based coalition of environmentalists, local businesses and community members, said BPC’s attempts to calm mounting concern over their proposed drilling has generated more questions than answers and may amount to a deliberate attempt to paint a false rosy picture.

“There is no question that drilling anywhere in Bahamian waters poses an enormous danger to this country’s environment and economy,” said Rashema Ingraham, executive director of Waterkeepers Bahamas and member of the coalition’s steering committee. “BPC officials are clearly attempting to minimise the very serious risks by offering vague, breezy assurances but zero concrete facts.

“For example, they claim to have adequate insurance, well above the minimum required levels, but neither the actual amount of coverage, nor the government’s supposed required levels were specified. The public is just supposed to take their word for it when our future is at stake.

“In reality, it is highly unlikely that a fledgling company like BPC, which has never drilled even one well to date, somehow managed to secure sufficient coverage to mitigate a major catastrophe. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico disaster, an exploratory well similar to those BPC intends to drill, cost $65 billion to clean up.

“All too often when disaster strikes, it turns out that fossil fuel companies rarely have sufficient resources to clean up their own mess; some try to avoid their responsibilities and matters become tied up in the courts while the damage continues to grow. Can this company please be transparent and confirm what level of insurance coverage they have actually secured?”

According to Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, executive director of Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) and fellow coalition steering committee member, the picture BPC paints of an isolated drill site far away from sensitive environmental assets is also highly questionable.

“BPC assures us that the drilling site is not within a Marine Protected Area (MPA) and that their studies show that there are no important environmental assets in the immediate area,” McKinney-Lambert said. “Yet they did not release any of those studies, nor did they share what are claimed to be their ‘incredibly detailed’ environmental sensitivity maps.
“They also failed to point out that while the proposed first drill locations are not actually within a protected area, it sits just outside the Cay Sal Marine Protected Area and very close to the extremely sensitive Andros Westside National Park.

“The Gulf of Mexico Disaster spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil, directly affected 68,000 square miles of ocean and resulted in oil washing up on beaches as far away as Florida. That this company would claim there is only moderate danger to sensitive environmental areas is simply preposterous.”

Nor she said, can their positive portrayal of their drilling contractors be relied upon, as “Despite BPC’s glowing assessment, one of the contractors, Stena, has a string of black marks on its safety record, including a 2015 conviction and fine for an incident that killed two workers in Australia, and a narrowly averted disaster in 2016 when a falling 20-tonne steel pipe almost struck and probably would have ruptured an underwater oil well near important Canadian fishing grounds.”

The coalition also questioned BPC’s assurances of wide consultation with fishermen, given that many claim to still be in the dark about the project – including fishermen in Long Island, Eleuthera, Spanish Wells, Andros and Abaco where the company says it conducted consultation meetings.

“I am appalled that this is even a possibility, let alone approved. The obvious short sighted possible gain, will inevitably lead to terrible and likely irreversible ecological disaster. Fishermen and Divers, one of the few careers Bahamians still actually have access to will be jobless. This is not a new economy, this is going backwards. Everywhere there has been large scale drilling there have been leaks and spills. I’m just terribly saddened by the idea that Bimini will be on the path of this mess. I keep thinking 2020 can’t get any worse, and I’m continually proved wrong. I am imploring Government to please take another look at the risk / reward here. Please. Our ecosystem is so fragile from Mangrove removal, hurricane damage, overfishing, hotter water every year, and diseased coral, we just can’t take any more threats.” Stated the owner of Bimini Scuba Center, Neil Watson Jr.

Over the past few months, Our Islands, Our Future has been attracting many community partners, including several local businesses and other NGOs. Sarah Kirkby, of new partner Human Rights Bahamas, said that despite BPC’s attempts to downplay the danger, her group knows that the stakes could not be higher.

“For a country that relies on sun, sea and fun – the thought of destroying it with one oil spill seems unbelievably stupid,” she said. “I walk our beautiful beaches as much as I can, my kids fish in the sea and we all dive and snorkel in our beautiful oceans. One, just one oil spill and our beaches are ruined, our fish are contaminated and our economy back in shambles. It’s heartbreaking to think we would give away this gift from God, for the desire to join an oil business that is unstable and dying.”